Books: Victory

>> Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Tonight I finished Susan Cooper's Victory, which shared a place with Samurai Shortstop on the Washington Times' Top Ten Books for Children 2006. Victory takes place in the present with Molly, a displaced British teenager struggling to accept her new life and step-family in America, and in the past with Sam, a powder monkey on Admiral Nelson's HMS Victory during the Battle of Trafalgar.

I picked this book up because I've recently become interested in Nelson, Trafalgar, and the Victory - in particular the rousing command he gave by coded flags to the sailors throughout the fleet in the minutes before the battle: "England expects that every man will do his duty." In this regard the book certainly doesn't disappoint. The scenes from the 1800s are vivid and visceral, with tremendous detail that never overwhelms or feels forced.

More worrisome for me were the modern day chapters that alternated with the history--I had trouble getting as worked up over Molly's smaller family story, and early on wished the book was only about Sam and the Victory. I shouldn't have doubted the Newbery-winning Susan Cooper though; she knows how to weave a wonderful novel. By the end, Molly's story is just as urgent and riveting as Sam's, and of course the two are inextricably and believably linked in complex ways that don't, thankfully, involve any element of real time travel.

Victory is a fantastic fiction introduction to life in Nelson's navy, and a supremely-crafted tale of love, loss and, well...victory.


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