This sequel to Stainer’s Joachim’s Magic has Joachim Gans back in Elizabethan England, where he is accused of heresy while his apprentice, Reis Courtney, works his way toward manhood.
The story opens at sea, where Joachim, Reis, Hans Altschmer, Thomas Hariot, and others from the failed Virginia enterprise are returning home. Reis, swept overboard, is rescued from drowning by Hans. Ashore, Reis is left with his Uncle Allyn and family at their hardscrabble farm in Surrey while Thomas and Joachim are summoned by the queen, who wants the master metallurgist to find a more efficient way of refining saltpeter for gunpowder due to the looming war with Spain. Rescued from Surrey, young Reis joins his two mentors in an audience with the queen, an exciting and intimidating experience. He also meets Robert Marchette, who will be an important and generous influence in his life. He accompanies Joachim to Bristol to help in the saltpeter venture under a royal grant. But Jews are not welcome in England, and soon Joachim is charged as a heretic (he has never tried to hide or deny his faith). This very delicate case goes to the queen’s Privy Council and is finally dismissed. But by then Joachim has had enough abuse from these English, and he returns to his native Prague. Sir Walter Raleigh tries to tempt Reis to join his planned expedition to “El Dorado” in South America. It is indeed tempting, but Reis declines and is hired by Marchette where, his foreshadowed talent emerging, he becomes the horse trainer on Marchette’s country estate.
Characters and character carry this inspiring YA read. Some are historical. Joachim and Thomas have major roles, while Queen Elizabeth, Raleigh, and others are relatively minor but important to flesh things out. Others—Marchette, Hans, Hugh Salter (who finally stops whining and finds his vocation)—are fictional but no less real and admirable, each in his way. Change is a strong motif. Hans has become a changed man from the previous novel, now a stalwart friend of Joachim’s and a cheerful and indefatigable giant who teaches Reis and Hugh the value of work and the manly art of self-defense. It’s easy to lose patience with the jejune Hugh, but the adults keep the faith in him and are rewarded. Patience is indeed a virtue here. Joachim, Thomas, Hans, and others know instinctively that they have an important job—to make a man, a good man, out of Reis—and each does his job admirably, mostly by being an excellent male role model. And Stainer does a wonderful job of evoking the contrasts in a great city as an awestruck boy first encounters it: “The sounds of London Town assailed his ears, the hawkers, the street vendors, the bustle of many people moving about their business. The smells combined fresh baked bread and a sour smell of offal, sewage and something else quite indefinable.”
An excellent, comprehensive read for any serious student of the Elizabethan Age and anyone concerned with intolerance.