Review: the Siege of Caerlaverock

There are plenty of children’s books set in a fantasy version of the Middle Ages – far fewer grounded in reality. Barbara Henderson’s The Siege of Caerlaverock is an exception because it is inspired by real events – and it has all the more impact because of that.

There may not be dragons, but there is plenty of heraldry, weaponry and intrigue, and the characters and setting are painted so skilfully that this story needs no magic to weave its spell.

12-year-old Ada is a laundress and chef’s daughter who has grown up in Caerlaverock Castle. When she attracts the attention of the brutal new Commander, Brian De Berclay, she fears for her life – but her brush with Berclay is only one of a gathering storm of threats.

With the English forces approaching, the residents of the castle must prepare to defend their homes against a mighty and well-equipped army, and without their Lord Maxwell to take charge.

As arrows fly and siege engines shake the walls, Ada and her new friend Godfrey, an 8-year-old Page, find that it’s down to them save lives – even if that means risking their own.

Reading the Siege of Caerlaverock reminded me how much my children once loved learning about the Middle Ages. As pre-schoolers they revelled in talk of trebuchets and chivalry, but the interest waned – perhaps through lack of a great story to channel it. This could be just the book to re-ignite a passion – it’s a great fit for the classroom and (as you’ll see from Barbara’s guest post celebrating visits to local castles) for the outdoor classroom too.

The Roaring Readers have enjoyed all of Barbara’s books, and this may be the best yet (it’s close, because Punch is a favourite too). It has a deliciously sinister, shadow-lurking baddie, strong female characters who defy the odds, and an unlikely friendship that ignores barriers of station and gender.

Best of all, and in common with all of this author’s stories, the children at its heart must find enormous courage to overcome situations not of their making. That’s something that, no matter how far back in history the story goes, is bound to resonate with young readers today.

The Siege of Caerlaverock, by Barbara Henderson (Cranachan)


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