History not as we know it

8th August 2003 at 01:00
Elaine Williams suggests holiday reading that brings the Border country's past alive

POWER AND STONE. By Alice Leader. Penguin pound;4.99.

NORTH SIDE OF THE TREE. By Maggie Prince. Collins Children's Books pound;4.99.

Historical fiction at its best is an intensely sensuous experience - the sights, tastes and smells of an interpreted past creating a rich, evocative landscape in which to place narrative. These historical adventures for teenagers combine period flavour of everyday life with a thoroughly absorbing read.

Power and Stone is a confident portrayal of life in a Roman fort on Hadrian's Wall in AD130, a snapshot for 12 to 14-year-olds of Roman Britain seen through the tense relationships between the conquerors, their home-grown allies, the Brigantes, and warring tribes from the north.

Roman brothers Marcus and Telemachus travel from Rome with their mother, Claudia, to be with their father, Gaius, the fort's commander. Love and friendship bind the brothers to a Brigante brother and sister, and, ultimately, to ever-present danger.

For a first novel, Power and Stone is full of pace and tension. Alice Leader, a history and English teacher, weaves a vivid picture of everyday life, full of flavoursome snippets, with a strong storyline based on cultural and generational differences.

North Side of the Tree is the thrilling sequel to Raider's Tide, set in the northern Border country of Elizabethan England. It is a gritty, earthy tale told in the vibrant first person by Beatrice, the 16-year-old English daughter of a rough-hewn English robber-baron, who risks her life and reputation as well as those of her lover to rescue Robert, a Scot she admires.

Maggie Prince continues to conjure the past boldly, peopling it with absorbing characters and presenting lively, sometimes harrowing cameos of daily events in turbulent times.

A riveting read for 12 to 15-year-olds that snaps and crackles with the tensions of the age.

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