Thursday, August 06, 2009

Capture the Castle: Siege! by Julia Bruce

The year is 1300 and times are troubled. Some powerful nobles have challenged the king for his throne. War is likely. The king has called upon you, his most loyal troop commander to put down the rebellion. Your number one target is the leader of the nobles, a rebel lord who lives in a new, strongly defended castle.

But this rebel nobleman is ensconced in a structure which is perhaps the premier example of the technology of its time. At its zenith, the medieval castle was a marvel of construction--rounded towers to repel scaling ladders, slitted windows and shuttered machicolations (crenellated curtain walls), to allow protection for archers, iron portcullises and murder holes to repel frontal attacks on the main entrance, and tile and hide fireproof coverings for defenders on the towers and hoardings. Double moats, a coterie of artisans and laborers to grow food, care for the livestock, forge weapons and armor, and marshal the supplies against siege, and a small army of skilled warriors made the castle the land-based battleship of its time.

But the attackers had their own high-tech weapons--the awesome trebuchet, the giant two-story tall catapult, the smaller but mobile mangonel, which fired stones or flaming missiles, the very accurate ballista, a giant crossbow capable of firing full-length spears, and the tank-like battering ram. Tactics like filling in the moat, collapsing the towers by undermining tunnels, and scaling the latrine shaft to the rebel lord's own keep made the mighty castle less than impregnable. And then there were the human assets of the besiegers--spies inside and without, local conspirators who could infiltrate the defenses, and roaming retainers who could kidnap powerful allies of the besieged to be held for ransom or bargaining chips.

Julia Bruce's Siege!: Can You Capture a Castle? (Step Into History) (Enslow, 2009) uses a second-person narrative which makes the text read almost like a story, effortlessly interspersing a great deal of historic information with the story of the siege. Backmatter includes a timeline of castle history, a very useful glossary. a brief bibliography and list of web sites, and an index. Artist Peter Dennis' realistic illustrations and accessible cutaway drawings back up virtually every bit of text with visuals which expand the narration perfectly. For research, for browsing, or for enthusiasts of the medieval warfare persuasion, this title is a irresistible gem.

Other new books in the Step Into History series are Hunt!: Can You Survive the Stone Age? (Step Into History) and Sail!: Can You Command a Sea Voyage? (Step Into History).

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