For the King

Written by Ronald Welch
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

1642. England is on the verge of Civil War, and 20-year-old Neil Carey must decide whose side he’s on: Parliament or the King. Neil is an unlikely hero; he’s small, diffident and not sure what he thinks. His confident older brother Denzil has no such qualms. He’s a King’s man through and through, and he despises both Neil’s puny build and his indecision. When their father, the 3rd Earl of Aubigny, reluctantly decides for the King, Neil feels he has no choice but to follow him.

I enjoyed this book. Welch is very good at showing the reader how things must have felt at the time. We empathize with Neil as he worries over his raw, untrained troops and begins to realize that war is not just glorious action but real privation as food and supplies run low. He gradually understands that ordinary people don’t care who wins; they just want to get on with their lives, and they resent their homes being commandeered and their food pillaged.

For Neil, the war is a steep learning curve, and this makes him a more interesting character than a more traditional super-hero. We are behind him as his self-confidence grows and he learns that he may be small but, with an agile sword arm and a keen intelligence, he can turn the tables on his enemies.

What comes across to me is the banality of war, the relentless privations and the slow erosion of faith in the cause. Neil’s new-found maturity is tested when he finds himself confronting the envy and hatred of those he tried to help, and faces possible death because of another’s treachery. The book is enhanced by William Stobb’s original atmospheric drawings, and there is a helpful family tree at the beginning. For thoughtful boys of 11 plus.

(Ed. note: To purchase this edition, see the publisher’s site rather than Amazon.)