Banks, Lynne Reid. The Dungeon. Harper Collins, 2003. ISBN 978-0007137787 224pp. $
Bruce MacLennan, a peasant elevated to Laird status complete with land and tenants in return for saving the life of his liege, uses his spoils of war to build a castle, dreaming of the day he will lock away the rival who stole the lives of his precious wife and children in a clan raid. While he waits for his castle and dungeon to be completed, he travels to China, where he purchases a servant girl whom he treats like a dog. Ultimately his relationship with the young woman is his salvation, but at a high price.
Not only does Banks provide rich details of fourteenth century life that make present day politically correct and over-sanitizer readers shudder, she also weaves in ancient Chinese philosophy with history, culture and geography of two very different places in one time. MacLennan’s obsession often makes him a hateful character, but he occasionally redeems himself, showing he is a complex protagonist, almost an anti-hero. Banks skillfully contrasts the quiet precision of the tea ceremony with the earthy brutality of war and revenge.
The strong characters and adventure have appeal to boys and girls alike, with possibilities for classroom use. The Dungeon will provide insight into medieval times and the human character, and generate much discussion as well. Recommended for juvenile and middle school collections.