© Elvira Woodruff, cover illustration not credited.
Another Scholastic novel aimed at younger readers, this one a historical thriller. Eleven-year-old Forrest Harper lives with his family inside the Tower of London in the year 1735. The tower is mainly a prison for the King’s enemies, who are guarded by the Tower Warders, including Forrest’s father Hugh. The two of them have an added duty: caring for the small group of ravens that are kept on the grounds for good luck and by tradition, their wings clipped when young so they can’t fly away. Forrest also has made a pet of a wild raven, Tuck, who goes nearly everywhere with him. Forrest’s best friend is the rat-catcher’s apprentice known simply as Rat, and the two of them share imaginary adventures. Forrest dreams of someday getting out into the city of London and the world. So far he’s only seen the inside of the Tower and its grounds.
Forrest helps his father with the old priest prisoner they’re in charge of, but everything changes when some new prisoners arrive from Scotland, members of the Stewart clan who are rebelling against the King. One of them is a young girl, Maddy, and she becomes the charge of Forrest and his father. At first ready to hate this enemy, Forrest soon realizes she’s an innocent caught up in a deadly struggle, and they become friends. When plans are made to free the Scots, Forrest must decide if his friendship for Maddy is worth risking his own life and reputation. Danger lurks on every side in this tense story, and when the escape attempt comes, Rat and Forrest are in the thick of it.
I enjoyed this book, it has a well-researched setting and believable and sympathetic characters. The one area where it didn’t work too well for me is in the situation Forrest finds himself in. He’s practically given full charge of a young female prisoner, able to talk to her with little supervision on many occasions, a very unlikely scenario, though of course the story wouldn’t have developed as well without it. And as the storyline evolves there are plenty of lucky accidents and narrow escapes that seem too convenient. Author Woodruff does keep things moving along at a brisk pace, and that helps make this an enjoyable read. Recommended.