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Molly Jennings, a young English girl recently transplanted to Connecticut following her mother's remarriage to an American man, is desperately homesick for her beloved London. On a rainy outing to Mystic Seaport, Molly and her family stop in a used bookstore, where Molly finds herself inexplicably drawn to a dusty old volume about Admiral Lord Nelson, the hero of the Battle of Trafalgar, whose statue graces Trafalgar Square.

When Molly buys the biography and returns home, she discovers hidden inside the endpapers a fragment of the flag from Lord Nelson's ship, HMS Victory, along with a note explaining that the flag was the most precious possession of Samuel Robbins, a boy sailor on board that famous ship. Soon, especially when Molly makes a trip to Portsmouth, England, where the Victory is still on display, she begins to see and hear more and more troubling visions and voices. Is it possible that she is seeing into history?

Far away from Molly's 2006 Connecticut, Sam Robbins, a farm boy from a large family, wants to become the apprentice to his uncle, a ropemaker. Shortly after Sam begins his training, though, he and his uncle are both forcibly pressed into service in the Royal Navy, assigned to work aboard the HMS Victory as she sets sail into potential battle with France during the Napoleonic Wars in 1805. Sam's life on board the ship is not easy --- as one of the youngest sailors, he is picked on by the older boys and assigned with the most menial tasks --- but he learns fast, and quickly learns to love the sailing life. When the Victory enters the most famous naval battle of its time, though, Sam must find the courage to face horrors and losses he never could have imagined.

Susan Cooper's latest novel is a time-shift story in only the broadest sense --- the connection between Molly and Sam is more emotional than actual, and Molly's eventual witnessing of the Battle of Trafalgar is not even the emotional heart of the book. What's most unusual about VICTORY is that both halves of the novel are equally compelling, presenting the stories in alternating chapters that will intrigue readers. Molly's story, told in third-person present tense, effectively shows the reader a young girl coping with both the loss of her father and of her homeland. Meanwhile, Sam's story, told in the first-person past tense, is an exciting adventure story filled with excitement, emotion, and intriguing details of sailing life in the early nineteenth century.

As Molly uses Sam's past to forge her connections to her deceased father and to her beloved home country, readers will also enjoy making their own connections between Molly's present and Sam's heroic past.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on December 4, 2007

by Susan Cooper

  • Publication Date: December 4, 2007
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
  • ISBN-10: 1416914781
  • ISBN-13: 9781416914785