Victory tells the parallel stories of two children, one in the past and one in the present. In the present-day story, twelve-year-old Molly Jennings, who has a mild form of epilepsy, has moved from England to the United States because her stepfather has taken a job in Connecticut. She is terribly lonely and homesick for England, and has a hard time adjusting to her new life. Told in alternating chapters is the story of eleven-year-old Sam Robbins. In 1803, Sam and his uncle are kidnapped by a press gang and forced to join the Royal Navy. They are assigned to Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory, where Sam serves first as cook’s boy, then as a “powder monkey,” delivering cartridges to the gun crew. At first, Sam hates life in the navy, with its cruel punishments even for trivial offenses, but eventually he comes to love the sea and HMS Victory, especially after Nelson saves his life. Two years later, he serves in the Battle of Trafalgar.
Susan Cooper, author of the wonderful Dark Is Rising fantasy series, has written an excellent stand-alone novel, with only a hint of fantasy, as Molly is drawn to a biography of Nelson with a note from Sam’s daughter stuck inside the cover. When she and her mother return to England for a week, she has a breakdown on board HMS Victory, and experiences some of Sam’s memories of Trafalgar. At the end, we learn of a surprising connection between the two children. (Or perhaps not so surprising; I guessed it relatively early, but it did not spoil the book.) She captures Molly’s sense of culture shock, and the details of Sam’s life at sea, extremely well. I highly recommend this book, especially for young people who enjoyed the film Master and Commander. Ages 9-12.