Saturday, January 11, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #11: Crogan's Loyalty by Chris Schweizer

The third volume of the Crogan Adventures -- each one telling the story of one of the male members of that very danger-prone clan, over the last three hundred years or so -- integrates the modern frame story more closely with the main historical plotline, and Schweizer is gaining enough confidence in his work to leave his moral strongly implied rather than spelling it out. So Crogan's Loyalty is both a ripping yarn and a thoughtful story of the ways that family and country (and other demands) can conflict. (It might be even better that the first two books, Crogan's Vengeance and Crogan's March.)

As usual, it begins with the present-day adult Crogan -- who, come to think of it, doesn't appear on the end-paper genealogy and has not yet showed any evidence of an adventurous youth like the rest of his family -- telling a family story to his two young sons. (I don't remember if their ages have ever been specifically given; they're probably not in middle school yet, but not far short of it.) They're on their way to the funeral of Crogan pere's mother -- the boy's grandmother -- where their ne'er-do-well Uncle Chad, who nearly ruined their father, who's been out of touch with the rest of the family for a decade, will be as well. And the fact of Uncle Chad, and the modern family falling out, leads the senior Crogan to tell his sons the story of two teenaged Crogan brothers during the American Revolution.

In 1778, William and Charles Crogan were each fervent in their causes, and each was out in the woods of the Western frontier in service of those causes. Unfortunately, young Will was a colonial scout, and his slightly older brother was a Ranger in service of George III. And, because Crogan's Loyalty is an adventure story, they run into each other on page seven of this graphic novel. They fight, they argue, but they don't kill or seriously wound each other, which could be counted a major achievement.

And they end up on the farm of the Dockreys, in a thinly settled part of the woods, over the official Proclamation Line into Shawnee country -- mostly because Will has been lingering there to court Bess, their pretty daughter. But both of them have work to do, which leads them -- squabbling and together -- to the Shawnee village to meet their chief, Jonah Red Legs, where Will is to trade on his father's old friendship with Jonah to bring the Shawnee into the war on the colonial side.

From there on, the adventure story kicks into high gear, though Schweizer doesn't rely as heavily on cliches this time out -- wisely, since most of the cliches involving Indians on the frontier are a bit musty and racist these days. But there are chases, surprise attacks, captives taken and tracked and freed, homesteads brutally attacked and men who set off for vengeance. And, of course, both Will and Charles have to make hard decisions under great pressure -- as the title says, they each have to decide, more than once, where their true loyalty lies.

Crogan's Loyalty blends fast-paced action with thorny moral dilemmas, and it all works because Schweizer makes all of his characters -- the warring brothers, the aged and weary Maquachake chief, the steely professional soldiers, the vengeance-seeking angry men both Indian and white -- real and believable, not just pieces of the yarn he has to tell. There's something like a villain in this book, but he's not the only one who does bad things -- and he's right to do what he does, in his own head at least. The Crogan books are great for teenaged boys -- though I may be biased, because I have two in my house, and they enjoy these books -- but they've got depths older readers will appreciate as well.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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