Gary Blackwood is quite a versatile author. In addition to his nonfiction Unsolved History books, which offer an overview of some of historys odder events, he is also the author of several historical fiction books. These books, which are intended for middle readers and young adults, take place in a variety of eras ranging from Shakespearean times to the Civil War.
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In The Year of The Hangman, Blackwood takes history a step further. In this world, the year is 1777, but there is no revolution taking place in America. The colonists have been defeated by the British troops, and their leaders have either been captured or they have fled to New Orleans, which is still under the control of the French.
Enter Creighton Brown. Hes arrogant and spoiled and not too long after the book begins, he finds himself on a slow boat to Carolina, so to speak. His widowed mother has shipped him off to the colonies to live with his uncle because she can no longer control him or tolerate his carousing.
When Creighton arrives, he finds that his uncle, Colonel Gower, has taken a position in Florida. When they are en route to their destination, their ship is captured by American rebels. While his uncle is captured, Creighton is allowed to remain free because the rebels are under the impression that Creighton is an indentured servant.
Creighton and his uncle are taken to New Orleans, and Creighton finds himself living in the home of Ben Franklin, who is hard at work secretly publishing the Liberty Tree paper.
Our young hero finds himself in a difficult position. His uncle expects him to spy on the rebels, but Creighton finds himself wondering if their cause is just. Most of the book deals with Creighton struggling with this issue.
Blackwoods descriptions make it very easy for the reader to become immersed in the historical setting. But this book is more difficult to enjoy and appreciate than some of the others. This is most likely due to the fact that it is extremely difficult to like Creighton. Blackwoods other heroes are far from perfect- Shakespeare Stealers Widge, for example, struggles with moral issues throughout the entire book. But Creighton really takes the cake. Hes like Draco Malfoy- full of snarling comebacks and hurtful quips.
Creighton continues to be rude and sarcastic for so long that when he does begin his inevitable redemption, it comes off as too little too late. He does make for an interesting character, although some of the things he says and does are a bit much.
The book is redeemeed, however, by Blackwood's consummate devotion to history. His alternate view of the events of the American Revolution (or perhaps the lack thereof) are brilliantly thought out and well-executed. It is worth reading this book for the historical content, despite the fact that it is not factual.
This book is ideal for children in late elementary though middle school and perhaps beyond. I have seen it placed in both the middle-reader and the Young Adult sections at libraries, and I imagine the book will hold appeal to both the Johnny Tremain and the brooding teen crowd.
I highly recommend this book. Blackwood is an amazing author. Creighton is not a very likeable character, but the history behind his story is amazing. I would also recommend the three books in Blackwood's Shakespeare Stealer series, as well as Second Sight.
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