The Time Drum by Hugh McCracken
Hugh McCracken’s The Time Drum is an enchanting tale about a boy who is making the transition into manhood. It is refreshing that the lessons he learns, and the maturity he develops, have to do with respect for others, the attendant respect for self, and the emergence of strong moral values. Coming of age this may be, but it isn’t about sex!
McCracken is reputed to teach so subtly that his youthful audience does not realize it is learning. At least the story should produce a healthy curiosity about past events, and at the same time demonstrate the value of self-control and self-respect. And best of all:
The Time Drum is a good story!
Excerpt from a review by Chuck Gregory of Blue Ear: www.blueear.com
Grandfather & The Ghost
Grandfather and The Ghost are two novellas bound within the same book. Both revolve around central characters who are young schoolboys, around thirteen years of age, who experience the usual trials and tribulations of school life; bullying, loneliness and being an outsider in a new school.
The stories are extremely easy to read and proceed at a reasonably rapid pace. At no point during either story did I feel that the writing faltered. In fact, quite the opposite. I think Hugh McCracken has an excellent sense of proportion with his writing making the storyline spread evenly across the length of each novella.
The writing style, subject matter and language used makes Grandfather and The Ghost ideal ‘post-Hogwarts’ reading material. Not having children I wouldn't like to hazard a guess as to the age-range that would enjoy these stories but having read the Harry Potter books I believe that McCracken's stories would appeal to a similar group of young readers. Parents can also be confident that there is nothing in these stories that could offend anyone. Indeed, the subject matter (bullying) could encourage the reader to express his/her own experiences. Good stories that are perfect for young adult readers without treating them like children!
Excerpt from a Review by Lesley Mazey, of Eternal Night, www.eternalnight.co.uk
I've read Grandfather & the Ghost.
I was hooked and very surprised that a young adult could sustain my attention (with characters of such young age). I hated the grandfather right from the start. You do a good villain! I suspected there was another man usurping the real grandfather's place when extended family members mentioned: “He was never like that.”
As for the ghost story, little Jamie was so sweet. I was sad to see that his self-imposed exile to that claustrophobic secret hiding place caused his death. But, while he caused mischief, I felt he was priceless. Bullies are everywhere. But at least he got some kind or revenge. Right?
Review by Carole Spenser
Grandfather and The Ghost are two amazing stories that pre-teens and young teenagers can enjoy. Full of mystery and suspense, the readers will be taken on a journey in which every corner reveals a new question and a surprising answer. While at parts there are some details that some might find “creepy” (when they find Jamie’s skeleton in The Ghost) both stories are quite well done and I recommend the book to all pre-teens and teens who enjoy a good mystery.
Review by Shane Johnstone, Kanata – Age 13
Rules of the Hunt by Hugh McCracken
Great fun -- and not just for kids, February 5, 2003.
The tale is told at a cracking pace, and it's a great adventure story. But it's more impressive than that. McCracken has the knack of portraying children the way they really are, not the way that doting adults would like to think sweet little kiddiewinkies are; this realism is refreshing.
Also, he's doesn't flinch from some of the ghastlier consequences of his plot: for example, one of the boys is killed and another suffers torture. Because of this darker side to the book, the sense of involvement is hugely increased: the threats aren't just Tom & Jerry stuff but very real — something that will be hugely appreciated by young-adult readers, who get tired of being shielded by well meaning adults from the unpleasant truths of life they can see in the newspapers.
But don't get the impression the book's just for young adults. At the grand old age of, er, fifty-something I sat up late devouring it. Grand stuff!/
Reviewer: A reader from Hewitt, New Jersey, USA. Unfortunately, anonymous, appeared on the amazon.com site.
Timeless Tales 4 stars review, Oct 21 2003 by M. Freeman
The five boys stared in shock at the man hung by his feet being whipped, overseen by the cold, calculating Duke. Only five minutes prior they had just been school chums out for a bit of mischief. Now they were flung back in time to the medieval era of their Scottish Isle unwilling participants in “The Hunt”.
Forced to survive, the boys turn to the eldest in their group, the only one with the skills to hunt but starvation is still a chilling reality. Not until they come into contact with a local farmer do their fortunes turn. It is there they are introduced to the ceremonial head of the Island, Andrew, the keeper of the old ways and enemy of the Duke. It is he who helps them find temporary homes and assists in helping them to adjusting to life in the past. Still, the boys cling to the hope and desire to go back. Together they face betrayal and stark brutality that test their courage and honour.
As they approach the anniversary of their arrival to this dark past the boys realize they must once again participate in “The Hunt”. Only this time with full knowledge of the rules. It is here they must confront their greatest enemy, the Duke and worst fears. Hard decisions will have to be made and even a bigger price paid before any of them can return.
Hugh McCracken has written an intriguing tale winding fact and fiction into a chillingly honest one.
The easy cruelty of the time makes a mockery of painted image that many have of the past. The characters depict the struggles of fourteen year old boys with emotion and volatility. Idiomatic expressions and words native to the United Kingdom pepper the writing adding a certain amount of interest.
It is an easily read story and moves fairly quickly. Young readers would enjoy this book immensely and identify well with the characters.
Five young boys on a small Scottish island are exploring a grove that has the reputation of being haunted for twenty-four hours each year; during this single noon-to-noon period, people often disappear. Sure enough, the five are suddenly timeslipped back several centuries to a time when the local Duke has the winsome habit of conducting an equivalent of the Wild Hunt on that one day each year. There has been puzzlement that quite often strangers in weird garb turn up during the Hunt, but none of them has ever survived it. The boys immediately encounter the Duke and his huntsmen, but are granted their lives until next year's Hunt although not before one of them is accidentally killed.
During the twelvemonth the four: Pete (the narrator, an American staying with relatives on the island while his parents divorce), Davey (his cousin), Keith (a working-class lad subjected to physical abuse at home),and Mike (the natural leader), integrate themselves with the locals, in particular being befriended by Andrew, a cousin of the Duke's and also leader of the Old Ones, a society that offers a sort of Gandhi-like passive resistance to the Duke's rule. The four boys come to be widely regarded as warlocks, and indeed Pete starts displaying some supernatural powers -- dreaming prophetic dreams and establishing telepathic contact with the Duke, who proves to be his distant ancestor. Even so, Keith is seized and tortured on the rack; by the time he can be rescued it is evident he will never walk properly again. And ever the day of the next Hunt draws nearer, and with it the enigma of whether the boys will ever be able to get back to their own time...
Timeslip novels for young adults are not exactly thin on the ground at the moment, but Rules of the Hunt is certainly among the most interesting of them that this reviewer has encountered -- and the most readable. The action, after a slightly slow start, fairly cracks along, to the point that once or twice one wishes it would crack along a bit less enthusiastically, because a couple of plot developments go by so fast that they almost ring of perfunctoriness. The setting, fascinating in itself, is very nicely realized; it has the feel of a fantasyland while at the same time being firmly rooted in a historical reality. The characters likewise come alive, although the boy Keith takes a while to do so.
What is additionally refreshing about this novel is that it is genuinely for adolescents rather than, as is too often the case with young adult novels, being over-sanitized. The killing, early on, of the boy Colin, whom one had assumed was going to be one of the protagonists -- one of ‘our merry gang’ -- hammers it home that this isn't going to merely the customary romp in which all dangers are survived without much damage to life or limb; and this tenor is maintained by such events as the torturing of the boy Keith. Keith's catchphrase is ‘No funny stuff’, referring to his only semi-joking fear of homosexual advances, the implication being strong that it's not just beatings he's suffered at home from his father and elder brothers. Pete is going through that phase of adolescence when erections pop up at all sorts of unexpected moments, and his embarrassment about this is treated with charming honesty rather than the whole matter being ignored entirely.
None of this is matter from which children should be shielded -- to the contrary, it contributes to their healthy development -- but most writers (and, much more importantly, most children's editors) would blench at the prospect of some bible-blinded parent in Texas taking exception and would censor reality accordingly.
All the best children's and young adult novels hold many riches for adults, and this is one of them. Rules of the Hunt had me gripped; even if one ignored its various subtexts, therefore, it deserves recommendation.
Review by John Grant (Paul Burnett) in www.infinityplus.co.uk
Pete, Mike, Davey, Keith, and Colin decided they were going to see what all the fuss was about regarding the legend of the woods on their home, Hunt Island (off the Scottish Coast), being haunted one night every year. And so set out to enter the woods on the one night when they were considered out of bounds.
They soon realise that they should have paid heed to the legends as they find themselves transported back in time to the Dark Ages, appearing in the middle of the annual hunt, when all who enter the woods are hunted by the local Lord and his men. The Rules of this Hunt are simple — you get caught and die or you stay hidden until noon when you are once again free. And once the hunt is over Pete and his friends must learn to live in this world and plan for a way to return to their own time.
This is a very enjoyable action story suitable for all ages — it is primarily a young adult novel although this should find many fans amongst adult fantasy readers. The principal characters (the five time travellers) are convincing, and the fact that it is necessary for at least one of the five to have a good knowledge of the period in history to allow the story to proceed is handled well and fits in with the tale.
This is one area, in stories such as this, I feel is all to often done in a totally false and contrived manner — but Hugh McCracken manages to write this into his tale without causing anything to seem unreal.
Equally it would have been not entirely unexpected if the lead character fell into the ‘Wesley Crusher Syndrome’. In Star Trek: The Next Generation I found the character of Wesley too much of a precocious, know-it-all that I found myself switching off Wesley episodes. The main character here (Pete) escapes this. He cannot do everything, he needs help from as many people as he can get, whether they be his fellow time-displaced or the villagers of the era.
The historical setting is also well handled, with just enough detail to ground it to a place and time, but still allowing the story to flow without page upon page of unneeded description.
It's a tale that quickly involves you with the principal players. There is great interaction between the youngsters, their relationships growing due to their shared predicament.
These boys are being affected by what is now around them, although within the bounds expected in a young adult adventure story. So you won't get breakdowns or similar strong reactions here.
But you quickly find out that the dangers of this time are great and that the five are not immune to those dangers. Once you become aware of this, the book becomes more involving, there's a definite possibility of any one of the five not surviving this tale.
Having heard that there's a second and third book in this series on the way I am intrigued. I cannot see how this story could easily be continued, but that makes me the more eager to find out.
This was a very enjoyable read, and I would gladly read more of Mr. McCracken's novels.
I would recommend this book without exception to any youngster who wants to read a gripping fantasy novel.
Review by Steve Mazey, Editor of Eternal Night, www.eternalnight.co.uk
Return from the Hunt by Hugh McCracken
Pete, Davey, and Mike are back from their time-jump year in the medieval period, but without Keith and Colin who never returned. But they are now, once again, subject to the ways of our time. This means school, and remembering how to act in relation to other people according to the social rules we live within. Their experiences in the past, in a more violent, feudal society have hardened them, and changed their attitude to the world and the folks in it to a much more black and white position.
When they encounter bullies they retaliate, and act as one, in a way similar to a trained military unit. People around them notice this, and it is only through the intervention of the Duke on the island that they stay out of serious trouble. The Duke has his own agenda as he has discovered similarities between these three and the three protectors of one of his ancestors in the dim past — he realises they are the three his family legends tell of, and that the local legend of the Night of the Hunt was the way these three (and the two who didn't return) made their time jump. He also realises they must return to continue their part in these legends and safeguard the lives of his ancestors. Together with some old army buddies of his they begin to train the three in preparation for their return to the past.
Often the middle book in a trilogy is a difficult book to read. The first book is usually action packed and fast-paced, introducing you to the world, the characters, and the direction of the story. Book three of the set finishes things off and includes lots of action. This leaves book two often as a means to get from book one to book three. Book two's often include journeys — long journeys. These to me serve no purpose whatsoever except to show the author has researched medieval transport — okay it's a pet peeve of mine!
This is different. It is the mid-book as a series, but it is not a traditional middle book. The first book is entirely self-contained; the story starts with the boys returning to the past having an adventure and then returning. This book takes place entirely in the modern day and sees the returning boys having some very normal everyday issues to deal with. But against all this is a growing sense of anticipation. This book works in that it hints at what is to come in book three without revealing too much of it.
The writing style is comfortable; it invites the reader into this world and makes him/her feel very much at home. This is a book aimed at young adults, and I would imagine it is very suitable for that audience (as well as anyone older like myself).
The violence the book contains is not overly described, and the emphasis is very much against bullying. The main characters are all teenagers, allowing younger readers to identify and sympathise with them. The story is paced well, with enough interesting twists to maintain the reader's enthusiasm.
Now all I need is book three.
Review by Steve & Lesley Mazey, Editor of Eternal Night, www.eternalnight.co.uk
Ring of Stone by Hugh McCracken
In the latest in his popular Time Shift series, Hugh McCracken transports his readers into the harsh realities of days gone by with a unique talent for interweaving breathtaking adventure and fine historical detail.
These utterly believable pages turn faster and faster to reach an unforgettable climax as McCracken casts his spell.
Excitingly illustrated throughout by Alan Geldard.
A group of University students following the demands of their consciences by protesting, and a group of ‘Bar Room Toughs’, more out to cause mayhem than seriously protesting, get transported through time into the brutal world of Medieval England. They are soon confronted by Master Gerald, the brother of the local Lord, who promptly arrests them and has one of their number executed in a most gruesome manner (reminiscent of Vlad the Impaler at his best).
Upon being taken to the castle of this Lord (Sir Harold) the party are freed by the Lord, much to the embarrassment of Master Gerald who is forced to make penance for his treatment of the group and the killing of one their number in particular. And so they find themselves in the midst of a power struggle between Harold and his younger half-brother Gerald.
One of the students (Malcolm) demonstrates his medical knowledge and assumes the role of physician in Harold's court, whilst other members of the group utilise skills they have from their own time to assume roles in this society.
But their position remains tenuous, dependent entirely upon the favour of the Harold Fitzwilliam, Lord of the manor. Should anything happen to him and his half-brother Gerald assume his position, they would be instantly at risk of his wrath. This book is aimed at a slightly older readership than Rules of the Hunt, which has a similar time travel plot device. The characters are older, at around twenty years old, and the time-displaced party being a more uneven, ill-matched grouping than in ‘Rules’, made up of a mix of University Students and Local "Bar Room Toughs".
This imbalance makes for more complex character interaction even before their change in circumstance is accounted for. And as for Master Gerald, he is an extremely sadistic individual, capable of some of the most horrific gruesome acts, and does not seem to have a single redeeming feature to his personality — a wonderful character to read.
These gruesome acts are presented in sufficient detail to fully illustrate the horrors of the time the party find themselves in without going over the top with excessive detail. This lack of explicit detail should also serve to make this book suitable for a teenage readership. In my years as a teenager (remembered from a distance and through a haze) this inclusion of the violence of days gone past would have been fascinating and would have served to increase my attention to the book.
But that they are not described in too gory a manner should mean they would not offend the parents of the potential readers. Especially when you consider the enormous amount of historical information Hugh McCracken has included in this book. This is a richly detailed world, but written in such a way as to not obscure the plot with minutiae. And any reader of this book will take away a much greater familiarity with life in Medieval Feudal society.
When I first started to read this book I was a little concerned it might not have a readily definable audience. Having read it though I have realised because this book has a wide appeal, I can see this appealing to fantasy fans (for the detail of life in a medieval setting), to history fans (for the same reasons) and to sf fans (as time travel is involved). I can also see it appealing to teenage and older readers alike. The plot is solid, the storytelling smooth, flowing with a steady pace, the characters well formed and their interactions thoroughly understandable.