A Scottish tomboy goes to war

Hadder MacColl, by Patricia Calvert. New York: Scribner's. 134 pp. $12.95. It is 1745 in Ballachulish in the Scottish Highlands, and 14-year-old Hadder MacColl waits for her older brother, Leofwin, to return from Edinburgh where he has gone to study at the university. She is a red-haired, high-spirited tomboy -- the daughter of Big Archibald of the Strong Blows, the chief of Clan MacColl. It is the same year that Bonnie Prince Charlie is come back from exile to lead what would be called the Rising of the FortyFive, a rebellion that, as Calvert describes it, ``divided the loyalties of Scotland itself and pitted clan against clan, father against son, brother against brother.''

Hadder remains, she tells us, ``proud of being as hard as the stones that lie beneath the thin soil of our mountains'' -- ready to go on a border raid or to ride a horse at full gallop across a rocky meadow. But Leofwin, the brother with whom she had taken a blood oath just a few years before, has changed.

A student of philosophy, he no longer sees the sense in their ferocious style of life, of ``quarreling and stealing and carrying our grudges to our graves.'' He is a part of the new Scotland that is emerging in the mid-18th century, and he resists settling back into the traditional ways expected of a chief's son, especially when it comes to joining the rebellion against England. His heart is not with fighting, but rather with the young lady he left behind in Edinburgh, the sister of his classmate, David Forbes, who comes back to Ballachulish with Leofwin to spend their summer holiday in the hills.

Ms. Calvert's story moves swiftly as the MacColls are swept up in Prince Charlie's ill-fated rebellion, which first leads Leofwin, and then his disguised sister, to the final, catastrophic battle of the war at Culloden.

But ``Hadder MacColl'' is predictable in a few too many places, and a little less than fully credible in others. For example, when Hadder exclaims at the end of the story, ``In another time and in another country . . . I might have been an ordinary girl. . . . But I had been trapped in history just like Leofwin,'' it is just a tad too abstract and self-reflective for a girl who is supposed to have grown up on rare venison and moxie.

Still, Calvert's novel engages important themes of change and growth. It is about that painful passage from the ``Forest of Forever,'' that secret, sacred place of childhood where Hadder and Leofwin forge their bond of loyalty, to the cold world of cruel loss. It is a powerful, moving journey.

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