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Books: The Lion Of Sole Bay

Lion's share of excitement in historical drama

The Lion Of Sole Bay

by Julia Jones

(Golden Duck, £7.99)

In the Lion Of Sole Bay, a Dutch nationalist plots to boost her political career by stealing the effigy of a lion taken from a warship captured by the English in 1672. Utterly ruthless, she's willing to risk her life and that of others in her goal.

Ransomesque, you might think. But this novel is much more than an implicit, and sometimes explicit, tribute to the author of Swallows And Amazons.

Though writer Julia Jones clearly draws much inspiration from that source, the book - the fourth in her Strong Winds series - is no mere pastiche and will appeal to more than adolescent readers.

Her troubled characters are vitally real. Many are on the margins of society, whether because of bullying at home or school or the scorn of those in the mainstream.

All struggle with issues of identity and moral choices in challenging situations which are not always of their own making and far more complex than any they have previously encountered.

Jones's intuitive skill as a storyteller is equally adept in avoiding didactism. The Lion Of Sole Bay is an excellently paced and precisely defined drama which is bordered by the North Sea, the many inlets and small rivers of Suffolk and close on 350 years of Dutch resentment.

Even if the various sailing terms press-ganged into service are skippable, it's impossible to ignore the tang of estuaries and the stomach-buffeting swell in her description of a sea storm during the escape by the effigy's stealers.

A great but not uncomplicated adventure story, the novel is given added life by Claudia Myatt's excellent accompanying illustrations and judicious use of the Battle of Sole Bay and its ramifications for both sides as the back story.

As a result, you'll never look at the seemingly benign Dutch in quite the same light again.

Paul Simon

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