By: John Orton
Publisher: UK Book Publishing
Publication Date: July 8, 2022
Reviewed by: Katie Specht
Review Date: September 13, 2022
From award-winning author John Orton comes He Wears a Blue Bonnet, a historical fiction account of five young Scottish men who find themselves indentured servants. The setting is South Sheels, England in the 1650s.
Our young heroes become friends on the battlefield, and after Cromwell’s victory, forty of the soldiers are captured and sold to go work in the salt pans in South Sheels. Malky, Davey, Niall, Dougie and Tomag are among this group who find themselves living this new, rather bleak life. Working in the salt pans is a whole new life for the men, and as Malky and his friends try to figure out their love lives and careers, they often wonder if freedom will ever be attainable for them. As they navigate their lives the best that they can, trouble and mischief seem to consistently find them. In those days, Parliament was very strict regarding any immoral activities and the consequences for participating in these activities were severe. Public floggings were commonplace, and many townspeople flocked to the marketplace to witness them. The enforcers of these punishments did not discriminate among genders; it was not unusual for a woman who found herself pregnant out of wedlock to be publicly beaten for all the town to see.
The men do their best to adapt to the foreign culture of England into which they are immersed. Malky and Davey find love, although whether those loves will last is uncertain. Dougie discovers that he is not quite cut out for the intense work of the salt pans, which is made especially evident after he suffers intense burns from a chunk of burning coal one day. Niall escapes, while Tomag builds himself a good career distilling whiskey. These events just hit a few of the high spots of the fulfilling and diverse lives that the men lead while residing in South Sheels.
Orton has achieved success with He Wears a Blue Bonnet by balancing the accurate and thorough historical fiction in the story with the highly detailed character development that is present throughout. He Wears a Blue Bonnet is a unique story in that there is a myriad of characters, which can often lead to minimal character development. However, Orton does a superb job avoiding that common writing mistake.
As a reader who is not familiar with Scottish dialect/words, I appreciated the glossary that Orton included at the back of the book. It was very useful and I found myself flipping to it numerous times throughout the story. That was a smart addition by the author. Another bonus feature was the inclusion of several drawings and maps throughout the book. These helped bring the story to life and provided more of a backdrop for the setting itself.
Quill says: Author John Orton has penned a certain hit with He Wears a Blue Bonnet. So much more than just historical fiction, Orton’s novel provides in-depth characters that the reader will become emotionally invested in. Add in the shocking twists and turns and it's unlikely that you will stop reading until the last page is turned.