Author: Sally Watson
Illustrator: Scott Maclain
Publication: Image Cascade, paperback, originally published in 1954
Genre: Juvenile Historical Fiction
Setting: Scotland, 1745Description: Lauren Cameron may be a girl in a family of claymore wielding Scottish warriors but she knows how to use a rapier and dreams of defending Bonnie Prince Charlie and fighting the British. While her father and brother are setting off for battle, Lauren and her cousin Dugald are the first to see British troops heading to Fort William and are able to provide a warning in time for an ambush of the Redcoats. Although frustrated to be left behind, Lauren and another cousin have adventures at home, including the discovery of a well-hidden cave near home (foreshadowing). The Battle at Culloden obviously puts an enormous damper on this story but creates an opportunity for Lauren to meet a real heroine, Flora MacDonald, who smuggled the Prince to Skye. Lauren is an alert and appealing protagonist, who (of course) recalls that convenient cave when the Young Pretender needs to hide from the British and thus earns his personal gratitude. Later, she defies British soldiers by refusing to say where the Prince is hiding, and is arrested, but remains steadfastly silent, before fleeing to France with her family to avoid the vengeance of the British.My Impression: I just heard that Sally Watson died last month at the age of 98. She inspired many American readers with the historical fiction she wrote for girls from 1954 to 1971, and Highland Rebel was her first book, written in just three weeks. She acknowledged later there were some errors she was too inexperienced to notice and that the book was “long on romance and short on reality” (later she took pride in her research) but those of us who enjoyed it as pre-teens were thrilled to see a girl with a sword on a cover and worshipped the Bonnie Prince along with Lauren, although we admired her cousin Murdoch too, also attractive and much more accessible. Whatever Charles Stewart’s faults, no one doubts his charisma:
Meanwhile, Lauren had stood wordlessly gazing at her Prince. So this was he – the fairy-tale Prince – the Bonnie Prince Charlie, for whom so many men had cheerfully given their homes, their freedom, and even their lives. And as he turned back to her and smiled the enchanting smile that had captured the hearts of so many, Lauren’s heart, too, was captured. She smiled back, and her brown little face lite up as though someone had lighted a candle behind it.Watson lived in England for many years before retiring to California where she met several friends of mine, who were fans and delighted to learn she was still alive. They befriended her and created a listserv for her fans, then taught Sally how to use email so she could participate. They persuaded Joy Canfield at the wonderful Image Cascade to reprint several of Watson’s books in sturdy paperback editions with the original art, so a new generation could enjoy her books. As Susan Radovsky mentions in her tribute, Watson specialized in heroines who rebelled against the expectations of society. I had not reread these books for many years but believe my favorite was Mistress Malapert, about a 16th-century girl who disguises herself as a boy and runs away to London where she meets William Shakespeare. Yes, I know Geoffey Trease did it better in Cue for Treason; I like his books too.Simon and Karen. It is also my fourteenth book in the 2022 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge led by Marg at The Intrepid Reader.
“I need not tell you, Mistress Lauren,” he said gravely, speaking to her as an equal, “that you have your Prince’s life in your hands. For there is a reward on my head, and there are some, even in the Highlands, who would like well to know where I am.”
I had planned to read Because of Sam and The Lord of the Flies but got distracted by other books. I reviewed two other books from 1954 recently, Young Elizabeth Green by Constance Savery and Mystery on the Isle of Skye by Phyllis Whitney last year. I thought I had reviewed Knight Crusader by Ronald Welch which I read at the beginning of the pandemic but must have got sidetracked. I do plan to return to that series. I have also read The Toll-Gate by Georgette Heyer, Destination Unknown by Agatha Christie, Mary Anne by Daphne du Maurier (which I disliked), Katherine by Anya Seton (one of my very favorites), Charlotte Fairlie by D.E. Stevenson (one of her best) and The Lord of the Rings. I may have read the Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit but I can never tell any of those books apart, fun though they are. What a good year 1954 was, to be sure!
Source: Personal copy
Source: Personal copy