1931 Honor: Mountains Are Free

VERDICT: Treasure

Laurinda’s Rating: 3.5/5

One of the 1931 Newbery Honor books, Mountains Are Free tells one of the most famous snippets in Swiss history, that of William Tell. It is narrated by a boy who is living with the Tell family when he sees passing knights. He attracts their attention and is taken with them to Austria. Unfortunately, the knight who grabbed him is a hot-tempered bastard and nearly kills the kid by forcing him to climb a four story, smooth sided building for entertainment.

That incident leads the Duke to seize BOY and adds him to the court as an archer. Kyo, the court minstrel, teaches him a few basics of court and helps him escape further notice. The boy also falls for Zelina, a noble girl who is nearly forced into marriage with EVIL KNIGHT. To escape the marriage, all three flee back to Switzerland.

Aided by winter, the trio settle in to the area. When an unreasonable overlord is appointed to Switzerland, tension builds. In a crystallizing moment, William Tell is arrested for failing to bow before the magistrate’s hat. He turns the tables on his captors, and the cantons rise. The boy takes out his former captor with a morningstar and the Swiss wipe out the spoiled noble Austrian army sent against them. Zelina and the boy finally express their affection for one another and she chooses to remain with him for the moment rather than try to reclaim her lands.

Overall, the storytelling was entertaining and well-paced. The main character was decent, but the secondary characters (and the setting) are what really made the story, particularly Kyo. He initially is difficult to deal with, but is genuinely a tender character who does his best to care for both children. The villains are overdrawn and less than convincing, but the style fits the semi-mythological nature of the story.

I would recommend this for those who enjoy decently written historical fiction and stories of distant times and lands. The flow is good and Mountains Are Free is a fast read.


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