I received a copy of this book from the publishers in exchange for an honest review.
From the publisher:
One of history's most turbulent times comes dramatically to life in this big, broad adventure novel. Twelve-year-old Alex, determined to get to the bottom of his parents' disappearance, sets out on a quest to find them. An ambitious time-travel novel set in Scotland at the time of William Wallace, Death of a King explores the turbulence of the bloody late thirteenth century after King Alexander dies on his way to Kinghorn without leaving an heir to the throne. The country is thrown into chaos, and Alex must overcome many obstacles along his path. Full of humor, intrigue, bloodshed, battles, and suspense, Death of a King is a rollicking read told by a major voice in historical fiction.
Born in the Netherlands, Andrew H. Vanderwal was raised in Canada. A partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, Andrew H. Vanderwal lives in Toronto with his wife and two sons. His first novel for young adults, The Battle for Duncragglin, was a great critical success.
First Line: The torch cast a flickering light over the coarse stone walls as the squire hastily led a man and a woman up a spiral staircase.
First, let me say that this was an extremely well researched book. Whether or not I always followed what was going on, it was clear that the events that took place really happened, (or that the details were changed enough so that if you knew the history that took place you would have seen clearly how the time travelers changed history. As I'm not familiar with this setting and time period, I honestly can't say which it was).
I think my biggest issue with this book was that I simply don't know much about this period of time. It felt like the events were described in a way that was sort a wink to the reader, but I never got the joke as I had no prior knowledge. It's not as if we didn't get plenty of background on what was happening - I just felt like these were probably famous battles, and I think my enjoyment was hindered by my ignorance on the subject.
I also kept feeling like I was missing something. I finally looked up the author when I finished this book and discovered there was a prequel. To me a prequel is something that doesn't impact the series - you'll likely need to read the series to understand the prequel, and it might flesh out some information about the series. But it doesn't work the other way around - you don't have to read a prequel to understand a series. (Or at least that's my understanding of how it works). I haven't read the prequel, so I don't know if this is the case or not, but the whole story felt like I'd jumped into the middle of a series and it was very disorientinh. If you do read this novel, I'd highly recommend checking out the prequel first as it likely explains the whole premise of this book.
I also felt like there were gaps between events in the book - for example, when did Alan become a good friend? It sounded like he was kind of a scary guy who wasn't well known in the beginning, but again maybe he has some sort of role in the prequel that suddenly explains why they are buddy buddy. And when did the modern kids suddenly decide to time travel to find Alex? One of them was being bullied, and we jump back to the past to follow Alex for a bit, and when we returned to the modern day kids...they were in a cave activating the time travel device? When did that plan come to place? It's possible I missed a chapter, I suppose? Because of this I also had a really hard time keeping track of who was who in the modern characters, and I didn't get a great feel for their individual personalities.
My BIGGEST pet peeve was the Scottish accent. This is simply a personal thing. I hate reading accents! You know what I hated most about Wuthering Heights? Joseph! He was bloody well unreadable! Reading accents really trip me up in a book and I have a hard time not getting distracted, so this may have also affected my inability to get really absorbed in the book.
All in all I felt like it was a very well researched book, and there's plenty of action, which I'm sure the targeted audience will love. Despite that, I felt really disconnected from the characters and actions that were taking place. I feel like the gaps in my knowledge and the missing information in the book played a big role in that.
Would I recommend it?
I could take it or leave it. If it was a book you were interested in, I'd say go for it because it's got tons of great history and action, but it isn't a book I'd go out of my way to recommend.