Following on the heels of his first time travel fantasy, The Battle for Duncragglin, Andrew H. Vanderwal returns with a companion novel, Death of a King. After travelling back in time to help his friends find their missing mother, thirteen-year-old Alex Macpherson remains in thirteenth century Scotland searching for his own parents, who disappeared mysteriously when he was five. Alex knows they went back in time to prevent the death of King Alexander and the ensuing war between Scotland and England. In a time where suspicion is rampant and executions are entertainment, Alex must journey across the Scottish countryside to find his parents, outwitting bloodthirsty villagers, misguided monks, and traitorous noblemen, all amidst a brutal military campaign led by none other than William Wallace.
While the Duncragglin books are best read in succession, Death of a King can be read as a stand-alone book, and Vanderwal smoothly fills in the blanks for the reader without relying on tedious explanations or backstory. Vanderwal bases his story largely upon true historical events and people and uses Alex to create history as we know it through his own fore-knowledge and ingenuity, without altering recorded events. The result is a clever, action-packed riff on Scottish history at its bloodiest. With suggestions of cannibalism, rape, torture, and beheadings, Death of a King is definitely not a book for the squeamish. It is, however, a rollicking good romp through time, and Vanderwal’s open-ended conclusion hints at the delicious possibility of a third in the series.
Karen Doerksen lives in Sherwood Park, Alberta with her husband and four children. She works for the Edmonton Public Library, and holds a master’s degree in Library and Information Studies from the University of Alberta.