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Hostage Lands Review by Kathy Gelzer

Douglas Bond
P&R Publishing Company
PO Box 817
Phillipsburg, NJ 08865-0817

 Being a "mostly classical" homeschooler, I was excited to review Hostage Lands, a historical fiction book for teenagers set in AD 211 England. The book opens with modern-day fifteen-year-old Neil Perkins discovering an ancient Roman manuscript on his farm in England. This sparks a renewed interest in his Latin studies as he translates the document with the help of Miss Klitsa, his eccentric Latin teacher. The manuscript is an account of an unlikely bond between a Roman centurion, Rusticus, and a Christian Celt named Calum. These two men join forces and wits to de-power a Roman tribune, Festus, who has betrayed his people for his own selfish purposes.

There is a fair amount of battle description and strategy in this exciting book. I think boys around age ten or twelve on up would really enjoy it, and it holds plenty of appeal for adults as well. The first four chapters and the last chapter (of 37 total) are written from the perspective of Neil, the farmer boy who discovers the manuscript. The other chapters tell the tale that is in the manuscript itself and are written from the perspective of Rusticus, the centurion. There is a glossary of Roman and Celtic terms in the back of the book, which is much appreciated. There is also a timeline of Roman Britain there.

I must say I didn't take to Neil much. He is disrespectful to Miss Klitsa and admittedly lies to his mother often. Actually, all of the students quoted in the first chapter treat the Latin teacher poorly. It was hard to get through that part. I was hoping to see some character development in Neil by the end of the book. This could have been done in two ways: by briefly switching back to modern times every now and then to show how the story in the manuscript was changing Neil for the better in his relationships, or by showing more of a change in him by the end of the book. In the last chapter, Neil at least shows more interest in English history and some appreciation for his eccentric Latin teacher for her help in the work of translating the manuscript.

Overall, I think this is a very good example of historical fiction. The gospel story is neatly woven in as Calum tells his story around a campfire one night. The plot is realistic yet surprising in its twists as it reaches a satisfying end.

Product review by Kathy Gelzer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, August 2007