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"Armstrong breaks history down to its basic elements and makes it richer."
Raleigh’s Page : A young boy’s dream come true of adventures in Virginia.
Andrew Saintleger’s father, an old friend of Sir Walter Raleigh’s, writes a letter that changes Andrew’s life and gives his son an opportunity to realize his dream to go to the New World to build a home where Catholics and Protestants can live together in peace. Thus begins Andrew’s adventures.
Though only eleven years old, Andrew quickly finds that living in Raleigh’s household is not easy—it can even be dangerous. Raleigh places Andrew under Pena’s tutelage, and he is to learn how to grow exotic plants brought over from the New World and to find ways to nurture plants from Spain where the growing season is longer and the sun much warmer. Andrew also catalogues and learns the various properties of plants that can heal and kill. It is no easy task. Andrew is trusted with a plot of ground to try his own botanical experiments, but his education does not stop there; Raleigh has great plans for Andrew if he passes a cunning test.
Raleigh sends Andrew to Dr. John Dee – alchemist, spy and Queen Elizabeth’s personal astrologer – with a task he must complete with wit and ingenuity or be sent home. He returns to Raleigh’s household. Andrew brings a letter that says he is to go to Virginia, but Raleigh will not let him go. Andrew’s then education begins in earnest. He learns the art of subterfuge and spying and the discernment of fine wines. He becomes an integral part of the planning that will take him and his tutor, Tremayne, to the New World as secretary and adventurer.
The hardest part of reaching into the past to write a historical novel is making the time and the characters believable without being boring. Alan Armstrong succeeds with flair and an intimacy of detail that renders the barriers of time invisible. Raleigh’s Page is a delightful and exciting adventure deceptive in its simplicity. Armstrong uses strong, straight forward prose that sweeps the reader into sixteenth century England as a member of Raleigh’s household and intimate confidante, dealing equitably and honestly with the religious struggles of the time. Armstrong never bogs the story down with too much or too little information. He balances the religious, political and personal forces of the period well within the narrative arc. From Sir Walter Raleigh’s sphere and the intrigues of the English court during Queen Elizabeth’s time, to the strange and compelling wilderness of Virginia, Armstrong puts the reader into the midst of adventure without demonizing, whitewashing or rewriting history, except with regard to Dr. Dee’s flight from England.
Seen through the eyes of a winning character like Andrew, Armstrong breaks history down to its basic elements and makes it richer. Raleigh’s Page is a tour de force that blends meticulous historical research with rich imagination. With Alan Armstrong illuminating the past, readers will demand more.
Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell
Categorised in: Book Reviews
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