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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Sometimes when I’m looking for books at the library, I search for books that I may review for East Niagara Post which fall outside my normal reading genres. The review this week is of a book that I wouldn’t normally read. In my ongoing efforts to bring you the best product I can, I will occasionally grab those odd books. This week’s selection, The Sage of Waterloo by Leona Francombe, is one of those books that is outside my comfort zone.

The Sage of Waterloo is a mixed historical fiction and modern parable. William is a modern-day, white rabbit living on the site of the Battle of Waterloo from 1815. Echoes from that great battle still reverberate across the hallowed ground, to be picked up by attuned senses of the animals currently living there.

Memories of the battle are passed down through the collective memories of the elders of the rabbit hutch. William’s grandmother, Old Lavender, teaches her protege how to decipher the ghosts roaming across the rolling hills of Belgium. After two hundred years, the impact of the battle can be relived through a set of adventures by a curious rabbit.

Flashes of the 1815 action are intermixed with adventures by rabbits over the same area. The memories passed down from rabbit to rabbit deliver an historical record from a unique point of view. When William is adopted by a family in a nearby village he gains a whole new perspective on life and the battle. He gains a new understanding of human nature and how the humans have distanced themselves from the very nature they live in. William and his clan are finely attuned to the changes in their environment, even to the atrocities of that nature from two centuries earlier.

While I thought that the premise of this book could have been interesting, I felt that the rabbit aspect of the book detracted from some otherwise impeccable historical research. The author’s grasp of the background of the Battle of Waterloo is very well done. The rabbit angle had the possibility of adding a unique look at the two hundred year old event. Instead, it took away from what could have been an extremely well done piece of historical fiction.

Pontificating rabbits with a paw on the pulse of human nature had the potential to be great. What we’re treated to was somewhat disjointed. I liked the idea that there was a collective memory for these animals. It reminded me of the how traditions were handed down orally generation after generation to preserve the ancient past. It is not too far fetched that a group of animals might have a similar ability.

The Sage of Waterloo is Leona Francombe’s first novel. While I was not sold on the rabbit aspect, I did find her attention to the historic detail to be wonderful. She puts a lot of time into her research, and that quality shines through the narrative. I hope that her next novel is another piece of historical fiction with just as much effort put into creating an accurate rendition of some event. It would be a fantastic read.

Craig Bacon thinks most animals know more than they let on. Follow him on Twitter at @hippieboy73 to see what the neighborhood cat forces him to write. Cats rule the universe.

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