The World Turned Upside Down
The story opens in mid 17th-century England with Elizabeth Clark witnessing the death of her father at a clandestine church meeting when a local government official attempts to enforce the King’s orders against such gatherings. Somewhat later, the killer’s brother intimates that he would like to marry Elizabeth. Finding the thought utterly distasteful, the impulsive and idealistic young woman decides to escape by disguising as a man and joining the Parliamentarian army. Once she’s assigned to a company, outfitted as a musketeer, and provided basic training, her travail begins.
Now called John, she and her immediate fellows-at-arms travel through parts of England, have repetitive marches through mostly inclement weather, take part in a number of non-military escapades, and actively participate in battles. Most descriptions of these activities are in sufficient detail to make them generally believable. Threatened exposure of her masquerade with reappearance of some of her earlier acquaintances provides an additional measure of suspense.
Readers may find the basic idea of a young woman living for weeks and months in open country and billeted constantly in homes and barns in twenty-four hour contact with her fellow soldiers and not being unmasked extremely difficult to accept. No matter how well she ‘soldiers’, and how circumspect she may be in her matters of personal hygiene, the fact that she manages for so long to escape even a chance encounter that would expose her seems highly unlikely. If the reader can suspend that much disbelief, this is an enjoyable read.