In this reprint geared towards ages 9-12 from Newbery Honor author Gary D. Schmidt, Anson Staplyton, a drummer with the Staffordshire Fencibles, is sent to Ireland with his regiment during the 18th century to help keep peace in the land. Anson is excited about the opportunity of serving his country and carrying on the family tradition. He is serving under his father, the colonel, and he has a great deal of pressure placed on his shoulders as all his ancestors served as Fencibles to the king. Soon after arriving in Ireland, his conscience begins to bother him after he witnesses several acts against Irish commoners that he feels are hard to justify. Anson knows that if the people do not obey the king’s orders then they must be made to obey, yet he struggles with this logic. As he deals with his conflicting feelings, he realizes that being a part of the Fencibles may not be what he wants after all.
Schmidt does a fine job of portraying the conflicts in the story, those of Anson and those between the English and the Irish, but the story falls flat in many ways. The time period is not very clear, though there is a mention of George II as king. Also, the reader does not have a clear grasp of Anson’s age. There is quite a bit of marching here and there, but without this, there is not much to keep the reader engaged. What saves the story is Schmidt’s attention to the relationship between Anson and his father and the difficult choices that one must make.