Nathan Fox: Dangerous Times

Nathan Fox

Author: L. Brittney

Publication: Feiwel and Friends, 2007

Pages: 288

Overall Rating: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]                                 

Rating for Action: bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary: Nathan Fox works as an actor in the same company as young William Shakespeare.  He’s recruited by Sir Francis Walsingham, England’s spymaster general under Queen Elizabeth.  Walsingham first sends him to Robey’s fighting school, where he studies swordplay as well as archery, knife throwing, pistols, and code breaking.  Then he’s teamed up with fellow agent John Pierce and Nathan’s sister Marie – who works for Walsingham too, sewing coded notes into handkerchiefs.  Together they travel to Venice to try and recruit the city state into an alliance against Spain.  Their mission ultimately leads them into a naval battle against the Turks, and embroils them in a deadly court intrigue as General Othello – a Moorish slave who rose through the ranks of the Venetian military – secretly marries Desdemona, a lady of the Venetian Court, and Othello’s ensign – Iago –plots to overthrow him and take control of the army for himself.

Age of Main Character: 14

What I Liked the Most: Brittney does an admirable job of weaving history, Shakespearean drama, and action together into a seamless story.  Over the course of the book Nathan travels to Westminster Palace and meets Queen Elizabeth, visits a British naval ship, attends parties at the Venetian Court, gets into a fight with a Venetian street gang, participates in a naval battle, and experiences life on the island of Crete.  There is intrigue on every side as men vie with one another for position and love, bringing tragedy to everyone in the end and threatening Nathan’s mission and his very life.

I also liked it that, while Nathan was initially dazzled by the idea of being a spy and a soldier, he soon comes to understand the reality of war and intrigue all too well, and his opinions begin to change.

Finally, it was fun having Shakespeare as a character in the story and watching events unfold that you know will eventually work their way into one of his plays.

What I Liked the Least: When Nathan is sent to Robey’s fighting school to learn how to defend himself he learns three skills in addition to swordplay – archery, knife throwing, and pistols – but after spending only one day on each he seems to master them.  It would have made a lot more sense to have him try to master one of them and spend more time on it.

While there are some good action sequences in the book, there are almost no scenes in which Nathan has to fight on his own without an adult backing him up.  He’s saved from an assassin by another adult. During the sea battle he participates as an archer and uses a throwing knife to stop an enemy crossbowman, but never engages in hand-to-hand fighting.  And when they’re attacked on Crete its John Pierce who does most of the fighting.  There are simply too many adults around for Nathan to rely on.

How Good was the Action?  The book is equal parts intrigue and action.  So it isn’t continuous action by any means.  The sea battle was quite vivid and well done, and there were a couple of very exciting scenes where Nathan uses dagger blades to scale a wall.  But the individual fight scenes are only so-so, without enough detail or blow-by-blow action.  Too much of the action in the fights is summarized.

How Engaging was the Story?   I liked Nathan’s character and enjoyed watching as his attitude towards war and General Othello slowly changed.

The intrigue surrounding Othello’s marriage to Desdemona and Iago’s attempt to take over control of the army really kept the story moving forward.  You know it’s all going to end badly, but it’s fun seeing how everything plays out.

Overall Assessment: This is an interesting book.  It has a few good action bits in it, but the story is really more about intrigue and history.  This would make an especially good read for fans of Elizabethan history or Shakespeare, but even if those things don’t interest you there’s plenty of good stuff to capture your imagination.  It’s a unique approach to the spy novel and well worth the read.

Profanity: None.

Sex:  None.  There are intimations of sex and lust among the adults in the story, but it’s all very mild and indirect.

Violence: Yes.  People do die in this book, especially in the sea battle.  But even in the sea battle most of the deaths are indirect and not especially graphic.

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