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Young Heroes Come of Age to Change History

Novels by Tom Durwood

Empire Studies Press    

Four young adult novels by Tom Durwood exemplify the problem-solving abilities, courage, and fortitude of young people with studies that place different characters both on the cusp of adulthood and in a position to change history. Durwood places each of his young adult protagonists in a key position at the cusp of pivotal moments in history.

His ability to portray the perspectives and experiences of ordinary young adults caught in adult affairs and his attention to pairing this history with vivid, realistic action keeps all of the books absorbing and hard to put down.

Take the collection Ulysses S. Grant in China and Other Stories (978-0999143544, $15.40 Paper/$5.99 Kindle). This pairs the action-oriented pace that is the hallmark of stories that attract young adult attention with young heroes and heroines who engage with their world beyond singular or individual concerns.

From participation in violent confrontations to choices in being proactive or reacting to unexpected events, Durwood excels at creating a variety of scenarios that test his young characters’ strengths and evolving approaches to life.

Also exceptional is Durwood’s inclusion of notes that precede each tale, giving each story’s historical context and character development as they evolved from a series of drafts of the stories. These provide the background and insights essential for young adults to understand not just the underlying history, but how Durwood made choices in representing these young people.

Among the winners in Ulysses S. Grant in China and Other Stories is ‘The Boatman’s Daughter’, telling of an early Egyptian girl’s battles as the biggest waterway in the world (in its time) is being constructed.

Sixteen-year-old Salima, the Boatman’s daughter, has arranged for her own future: going to a good school. Her education not only helps her father’s business, but prepares her for confrontations to come as she assesses her place in a changing world and confronts assassins, love, and treachery alike.

This short story also appears as a longer work, The Illustrated Boatman’s Daughter (978-1952520020, $19.00 Paper/$12.00 Kindle), which enjoys not just the expansion of all its themes and additional action, but talented art from Serena Malyon, Niklas Frostgard, and Oliver Ryan.

Where the short story excels in presenting succinct action concentrating on one piece of Salmina’s life, the longer version expands details and provides further insights into her world and the politics that drive and influence her life.

The title story, ‘Ulysses S. Grant in China’, is set in 1877 China and follows the meeting of two remarkable leaders in Peking. A student musical group asked to play for them introduces Joseph, an American boy resented by the others. He finds that his playing and their efforts change the nature of discussions and understandings between early China and America.

Young readers of historical fiction will also relish The Colonials (ASIN: B07Q9YSLGN; $3.99 Kindle), a survey of early America that features teen heroes who change the course of history. Having teens take matters into their own hands rather than simply reacting to adult forces adds extra depth to a tale that is thoroughly engrossing.

Another addition to the story that elevates it beyond a historical recap alone is the presence of mystery and intrigue added into the story of the foundations of the American Revolution.

In school, young learners get the idea that the American Revolution was primarily a concern of the British and the Americans. As this story takes place, the observations and concerns of a group of teens regulated to an elite boarding school shows that the battle actually reached into global territory, introducing issues of equality and freedom into more than American circles.

Who would come from Europe to save the Colonials, who are at a grave disadvantage? The answer is surprising. Teens who chose this story will find that the American Revolution and its various social and political influences come alive even in Amsterdam, where Johannes and others observe these struggles and become involved on many different levels of idealism and confrontation.

The action is nicely done, strong characterization creates a powerful draw, and readers will find this story compelling, offering a depth of subject and emotionally charged scenes that bring the issues of the 1700s to life from the perspectives of young people concerned about their futures.

King James’ Seventh Company (978-0999143520, $15.40 Hardcover/$5.99 Kindle) follows a group of teens who embark on a journey to solve what is going awry in the King’s land. King James’ Seventh Company not only confronts scholarly influences on the production of the King James Bible, but considers the political and social impacts it and they have on the land as the result of their actions and choices.

This vivid story of the Bible’s evolution places these teens at the crux of decisions that will not only affect their society, but lives around the world, for centuries to come.

The story of the creation of the King James Bible version is little-covered, which makes this account even more highly recommended for choosing a historical event and era that is far less familiar to most young people than the usual historical novel’s backdrop.

A prologue that takes place in Wales in 71 A.D. sets the stage for 1600s events which are narrated in the first person to bring the era to life.

As a borrowed book snafu leads into revelations of intrigue, mistaken identities, and a plot that involves printers, scholars, politicians and assassins, proactive teens take charge to change their world.

All these novels hold similar basic elements: the teen characters are strong, responsible, clever, and dedicated to influencing the wider world around them. They also are all solidly based on history, yet bring that history to life through the eyes, senses, and actions of strong young adults.

These reads are uniformly gripping and educational, all in one. Pair action and adventure with social issues, political confrontations, and the perceptions of teens effect positive changes for a set of historical stories that should be in the collections of any library looking to illustrate the attraction and power of historical fiction.


Once I started reading, I didn’t want to stop … the lush, lyrical writing style, the realistic plotlines and the solid character development.

Solid pacing overall, and near perfect editing. Very impressive and I’ll happily read more from Mr. Durwood!

Layla Messing (Goodreads; Barnes & Noble; Indie Book Reviewer)

Each story tells of different lives of people in state of change, and some with circumstances reflective of human nature, some at its most pivotal, and even darker moments, and some very ordinary. Yet even the darker stories are somehow beautiful, profound and touching in their own way. I was impressed by the amount of emotion and investment Durwood manages to pull from the reader in just a few pages. Sign of a gifted writer there.

Nicola Flood (Goodreads; Barnes & Noble; Indie Book Reviewer)

Works full of mystery and heartbreak … a brilliant storyteller of history. 

Sara Ridley of Life of a Storyteller book blog