Suzannah's excellent review, I knew that I would simply have to lay my hands on a copy. Recently, due to a good sale, I took initiative and ordered one of his books. And great was my delight when I received it in the mail, in spite of its less than gentle arrival.
Lady Bibliophile should not be in sight if any of her books are thrown on the doorstep, instead of being carefully and deferentially placed there.
Since I could only order one, I chose the one I was most interested in: Brothers At Arms. Though technically it's the second in a series, it exists on its own right beside the first one, The Boy Colonel, and you'll have no trouble reading it out of sequence, as the stories don't intersect until book 3. This week, and most of Sunday afternoon, I plugged away at it. Relaxing, suspenseful, and absolutely enjoyable from beginning to end, the story never flagged, and I was quite pleased with my purchase.
So today, I present to you Brothers at Arms.
Lawrence Stoning and his brother Chester are an experiment. Growing up in a family with an absent socialite mother and a scholarly father who wants to keep track of them like specimens on a cork board, these twins couldn't be more opposite. One, Chester, was encouraged into hunting, sporting, and all things active. Lawrence took a more scholarly turn, and enjoys his books and ink and paper. Their father is keeping track of each son's education to determine which one turns out best, but other than that he's not really involved in the lives of his sons, and the brothers aren't involved with each other. They're individual entities, existing solely for their own interests. Neither of them know who is the oldest twin; their father didn't want that knowledge to damage his experiment.
I'm inclined to favor Lawrence for that status.
When Chester runs away to join the army, his father is distraught, and comes out of his lethargy enough to order Lawrence to follow after and bring him back. Lawrence tracks his brother down, determined to do his duty by him, secretly yearning for his books at home, and finds that Chester has no intention of coming back at all. So Lawrence gets him an officer's commission, attaches himself to Chester as his personal servant, and off to Spain the brothers go.
When Chester rescues a young Spanish girl from a kidnapping, and finds out from her brother-in-law that she has an angry and powerful suitor after her, he sells his officer's commission and he and Lawrence travel as bodyguards with the young woman, her sister, and her brother-in-law, to take refuge in Peru. But they soon realize that Pacarina has more than a suitor after her. She guards a powerful secret that she alone holds the knowledge of: a great Incan treasure hidden away for years past. Someone knows she holds the secret, and will do anything to wrench it from her.
They have until the shadow of the snake falls to leave Peru. But the person after Pacarina might not even give them that long before he strikes again. Lawrence only wants to make sure that he brings his brother home safely, in deference to his father's request, but his lack of survival skills and Chester's recklessness promise to make that a miracle if he ever manages it.
These two brothers find themselves at increasing odds with each other, and unless they can find a way to overcome their differences, they may bring Pacarina, as well as each other, down, simply through their own disparities.
I'm always interested to see how young authors do, and though John J. Horn is a new author on the scene, and his journey is just beginning, it bids fair to be a fine one. I'm sure he'll grow and improve over time, just like every other author. I can definitely see the Henty/Ballantyne influence, and I think he's doing a great job imitating them. He did well with his second book (I can't speak to the first one, not having read it), and I enjoyed it immensely, but I enjoyed it with the knowledge that he'll get even better if he keeps up the writing.
The most important thing to be found in any book, the characterization of the main characters, is absolutely spot-on in Brothers at Arms. The twins, Chester and Lawrence, each have a separate viewpoint in the story, and it is distinct and well-drawn. Lawrence writes the story through first person perspective, and I love the stiff little scholarliness that he brings to writing a rip-roaring adventure yarn. It fits perfectly, and tells you more about him than he ever does himself. It's almost as if he's struggling to reconcile in his bookish mind that he's actually telling anyone about all these crazy happenings. So he tries to polish it up and present it with some semblance of intellectualism, and that touch was both original and charming. Chester and Lawrence are so vivid in their likes and dislikes that I really can't pick a favorite, though I know I would end up being a complete Lawrence on that adventure. There was one instance where Horn wrote from Chester's perspective, and he's completely different than Lawrence, and just as vivid. Horn knows his characters and who they are, and that shines through.
I suspected the villain just before he was revealed, but I was hoodwinked along with the rest of the characters for most of the book, so that's always pleasant, because I like surprises.
Sometimes I had a hard time remembering the time the story was set in--1830s, I believe--and I put it a little later in my mind, so I kept thinking certain plot elements were out of character until I remembered that it was 19th century. A little more clarification on that would have been helpful. Also, the book is quite adventurous, but sometimes things move a little too fast. However, overall it was an excellent story, and the author's pacing will improve in time. Two very small complaints in the end, and far from outweighing the benefits of the story.
The thing I most appreciated was that a young man saw the value of fiction, took delight in it, and wrote some of his own. That's what excites me about this book, because fiction in today's homeschool circles is taken up mostly by females, and we really do need young men to bring their perspective to the genre. This young man was not ashamed to write about themes of chivalrous manhood, attractive womanhood, and even a little romance, yet it was all done with excellence, and no unsavory things were included. I also find it refreshing that Horn created an absolutely feminine character in Pacarina who was still worth her salt.
I only wish I could read the 3rd book in the series. But it is now out of my power to get. Unfortunately, due to Vision Forum's liquidation, this Men of Grit series is no longer available for sale. I trust that the temporary disappearance will only be for the present, and Horn can find another distributor for his books. They should come back on the market, for they will delight many bibliophiles, and they hold a breath of promise to young people rising up and taking dominion of the literary market.
Bravo to John Horn. Brothers at Arms was a pleasure from beginning to end, and if it ever comes back on the market, I highly recommend it as a pleasurable and edifying read.