Byrd of the 95th

Showell Styles
Grade / Age level: 

This book is now included in the Bethlehem Budget Book The Flying Ensign, also reviewed on this site.

I really liked this book. I can vouch for my wife's statement that this is a great read aloud. I read it to my children at bedtime (ages 3 through 9) - they were engaged... though the younger ones usually fell asleep. The older two LOVED it.

Like the first book, there are plentiful descriptions of landscape, escapes, rescues, heroes, villians and architecture. The latter two are grouped for a reason. This book finds the ensign and all the principle characters of the last book together again. This time however, the story centers around a diversion to rescue the beautiful Anita and her noble father Don Claudio del Riego (one of the wealthiest noblemen in French-occupied Spain). They have been kidnapped, along with their hidden cache of jewels, by the traitorous El Cuchillo - a brigand from an ancient and once respected family - who makes his home in the family castle in the mountains. The castle features a knife-like spike of rock projecting up from within the fortress.

That the Spanish nobleman is now allied with the occupying French force, or that he chose to be a brigand rather than a noble may each be subjects for discussion of how the author gave him his nickname and abode - El Cuchillo - The Knife.

I had a hard time unraveling some of the battle scenes the author describes in the story until I got to the very helpful map on pg. 277. There's a lot of interesting military history, but I would have appreciated a few more maps.

It should also be noted that the author, while painting the valor and honor which the young ensign felt and aspired to, does not refrain from describing some of the gruesome aspects of battle. Unlike so many Disney stories (thank goodness) men actually die in this book. Children are neither idiots nor prudes in realizing the effect of violence can be death! You may want to read it to your kids - you can. But, for younger listeners, you may wish to keep an eye out for the few graphic descriptions. For instance: "In the ranks a few yards away gaps appeard - men flung into fragments by the flying [cannon] balls, men struck down and screaming in agony." Or in the story above: "... saw one twelve-pounder ball hurtle through the ranks a few paces from him, tearing two green-coated men into red fragments and ripping an arm from a third."

This is an enjoyable, readable story about a heroic young man who braves dangers and wins. In other words, a good hero story for kids. And the pretty young sable-haired Anita should be appealing to both boys and girls as a person who knows courage as well as courtliness.

Additional notes: 

This book was donated for review by Bethlehem Books.

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