Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Review: On a Foreign Field - Hazel West

On a Foreign Field by Hazel West
Genre: YA, historical fiction
Published on July 25, 2012
Published by CreateSpace
Pages: 360
Read From: 2.1.13 - 2.7.13

Sir Reeve Montgomery is an Englishman born and bred, proud of her heritage and the right to serve his country fighting against the Scottish rebels. But when the tide is turned unexpectedly during the Battle of Stirling Bridge, he is wounded by an English arrow, left for dead by his comrades, and taken captive by Wallace's army. Wounded, and alone on a foreign field, he knows he should expect nothing but torture and death at the hands of the Scottish rebels who are known to be complete savages. 
But as he comes to know this tight brotherhood better, and sees Wallace's utter devotion to his men and the cause of freedom, Reeve begins to wonder whether the English are right to oppress them. 
Faced with these troubling thoughts, Reeve must decide whether he will stay true to his king, or join this brotherhood of freedom fighters, thus turning his back on everything he has ever known or believed in.


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? Yes. It’s simple, but very poetical. It suit’s the story perfectly. And there are no character impersonators.

Characters: Reeve is an excellent protagonist for a camaraderie story. He’s seemingly devoted to his country until it betrays him, and he comes to truly understand the Scottish cause. And once his loyalties have been gained, he is fiercely loyal; the best sort of friend to have watching your back on the battlefield. But probably some of my favorite characters were in the supporting cast. My heart always goes out to the “tortured souls,” and Galeyn was the one who played the role. I don’t normally like hot-headed characters, but I felt such great sympathy for him. He was just a boy; I wanted so badly to give him a big hug and never let him out of my sight. The two girls, Maggie and Adeline, were wonderfully strong female characters. Maggie was tough and quite capable of taking care of herself, but she retained a regal-like, feminine bearing. Adeline reminded me of Lorena in By Blood or By Bond: she was ready to find pleasure in the simplest things, and had a quiet strength about her. But probably the hardest character to make real to the Reader was William Wallace himself. He has become such a prominent figure in history, and such a very definitive one, that it’s a challenge for Authors to write him in a way that allows the Reader to actually connect to him. Hazel West pulls it off. She abandons the inaccurate Braveheart portrayal and presents him to us with emotions we can understand, a personality that we can easily say, “Yeah, I know someone like that.” But she still manages to maintain the aura of “legendary historical figure” that makes William Wallace so intriguing. On a Foreign Field isn’t swimming with villains, but however brief Menteith is in the story, he comes across as downright dangerous right off, and I actually thank that had he been in the story more, he might have lost some of that intimidation. I absolutely hated Gerard for abandoning Reeve on the battlefield. Yeah, he had a wife to think about, but the whole time Gerard was like, “I don’t want to die today!” It’s like he wasn’t ever thinking of Reeve at all; only himself, which just made him all the more despicable.

The Romance: This Author writes the kind of romance that I like: it’s there, but it’s subtle, and doesn’t get in the way of things. The romance between Reeve and Maggie is just that, and it comes across as a very deep affection - true love, not some sudden infatuation, even though Maggie and Reeve really haven’t known each other horribly long.

Plot: Anyone who knows anything about William Wallace will be familiar with the general plot. Since this is not an alternate history story, the end is predictable, but the Author gets Readers to care about Wallace so much that I dreaded what I knew was going to happen. But the story doesn’t just focus on Wallace’s rebellion; it’s a story of camaraderie; of finding a cause truly worth fighting for; of gaining brothers when one would never expect to find any. Doesn’t really sound like much of a storyline, probably. But between the very engaging battles and skirmishes, I had a lot of fun reading about the characters’ developing friendships. This is more of a character-driven story than a plot-driven one, and I liked it. I also liked that Reeve didn’t actually play any major role in historical events, but was a mere observer; it makes it easier to believe that maybe, just maybe, Reeve - or someone very like him - actually existed. With a historical setting that so many people know, it’s pointless to try and create suspense, when everyone knows what happened to Wallace. So it’s better to write about the characters.

Believability: I happen to personally know that Hazel West does extensive research for her books, which definitely showed in On a Foreign Field. Her comfort with the era was extremely evident, through the little details and the ease with which she wrote about the major events. She knows what she’s writing about, because she’s done the research. The Author was also able to convince me that Maggie could travel with a bunch of men and not have it be a problem, for several reasons: One, Maggie’s brother was among the men; two, Maggie had a personality that allowed it, and three, Adeline’s added presence makes it to where she’s not the only woman among them, and that always makes such a situation more convincing.

Writing Style: Very good. Her battle scenes are easy to follow, and her sentences blessedly un-choppy. She does reiterate things like “brotherhood” and “brotherly love” and “brotherly camaraderie” to a point that begins to feel redundant, but her reasons for pounding the “brotherhood” aspect of the men’s relationship is a very good one. Nowadays, people seem to think that guys can’t be really good friends - indeed, can’t really care about each other - unless they’re gay. The concept of brotherhood and camaraderie has died out. So the Author wanted to make it abundantly clear that Reeve and Wallace and Galeyn and Gavin and everyone else were not - I repeat, not - gay at all, and unfortunately the only way she could do that was by repeating to the Reader that they have a brotherly affection for one another. On these grounds, I completely excuse the redundancy of it, and considering that the Author had to do all of her own editing, what spelling errors there are can also be excused.

Content: None.

Conclusion: We all know what happened to William Wallace. In fact, I know what happened to him so well that I cease to feel even slightly sad when I read Wallace’s death in books anymore. But I admit that I cried when I read the end of On a Foreign Field. I felt so awful for Reeve. And in not writing the gory details of his executing, but rather simply implying the violence, made the scene so much more emotional. In summary: I thought this book was a triumph. The characters were very likable and the writing good. The Author once more demonstrates her ability to make Readers care immensely for her characters.

Recommended Audience: Guy-and-girl read, thirteen-and-up, perfect for historical fiction fans.

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