By Author / Illustrator
Andersen Press Ltd
Nobody free till everybody free. Moa is fourteen. The only life he has ever known is toiling on the Frontier sugar cane plantation for endless hot days, fearing the vicious whips of the overseers. Then one night he learns of an uprising, led by the charismatic Tacky. Moa is to be a cane warrior, and fight for the freedom of all the enslaved people in the nearby plantations. But before they can escape, Moa and his friend Keverton must face their first great task: to kill their overseer, Misser Donaldson. Time is ticking, and the day of the uprising approaches . . . Irresistible, gripping and unforgettable, Cane Warriors follows the true story of Tacky's War in Jamaica, 1760.
The heartrending true story of a slave uprising in Jamaica, Cane Warriors brings horrifically to life the dreadful conditions enslaved people endured as they worked on the sugar plantations in the Caribbean. The writer, a regular visitor to Jamaica, used his travels to help research the background to this event, which he believes should be recognised on an equal footing with other historical battles for freedom.
The inhumane treatment makes for difficult but compelling reading and, as the cover notes state, the writing is visceral. Alex Wheatle is able to vividly portray the friendship of teenagers, Moa and Kelverton, as they join the other warriors in a war against the cruel overseers and the plantation estate owners. Additionally, the author uses Moa's parents to describe conflicting views about the planned rebellion and these pages are particularly emotional.
Cane Warriors is based on a true event in 1760 when Tacky and his fellow warriors led a rebellion against the English in the lands around Fort Haldane. Despite the huge deprivations, the two main characters describe their hope for a better future and the reader is left in awe and admiration that people in such seemingly hopeless circumstances could be so courageous.
This is a challenging but essential read for older teenagers, it has links to the secondary school history curriculum and offers children and adults alike an excellent book to read and recommend, particularly during Black History Month.
192 pages / Reviewed by Ruth Cornish, school librarian
Suggested Reading Age 14+
14 year old Moa has spent his whole life as a slave on a Jamaican sugar cane plantation, and has recently been 'seasoned' (whipped to within an inch of his life for the first time) by the overseer. With his scars still throbbing, Moa is invited to become the youngest member of Tacky's rebellion against the vicious, brutal British slavers; to fight for freedom and hope: for himself, his family, his friends, his people. Moa and his best friend Keverton have a job to do - as part of the chain of events that will mark the start of the uprising, they are tasked with killing their overseer, Misser Donaldson.
Cane Warriors is a powerful new novel from Alex Wheatle, inspired by a number of slave uprisings, revolts and rebellions, and based specifically on Tacky's Uprising of 1760. The horrors and brutality of both life in slavery and the violent uprisings are brought to vivid and disturbing life by Wheatle's prose, in the form of Moa's narration and the Jamaican Patois dialogue. The moral ambiguity that Moa struggles with is brilliantly portrayed as utterly desperate times call for utterly desperate measures.
Wheatle says in his afterword, '[t]here is no doubt that the British Empire was one of the most brutal and unforgiving in world history'. The awful atrocities and dehumanising viciousness of the British overseers in Cane Warriors is difficult to read, but is especially important considering that the predominant narrative in this country of British colonialism as a liberal, liberating, benevolent and heroic force is so pervasive as to be taken for granted.
Cane Warriors is a book that perfectly illustrates how fiction can be used to shed light upon historical truths - particularly of marginalised and unheard voices and experiences. At the same time, the book works as a shocking, gripping and heartbreaking historical adventure story and a coming of age tale, full of both anger and hope. It obviously deals with some dark and shocking subjects - including rape, torture, racism and death - but it never feels gratuitous or exploitative.
Cane Warriors shines a light on a particularly dark period of history whose effects can still be felt today. A powerful, important book that is destined to become a modern classic.
192 pages / Ages 12+ / Reviewed by Dan Katz, School Librarian
Suggested Reading Age 11+