New Envisioning of the Dutch Golden Age

“The Caliph’s Gift” Imagines East/West Encounter from Clerk’s View
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Oct. 20, 2012 - PRLog -- Towards the end of the 16th Century, a group of Dutch merchants quietly sparked a  rebellion against the dominant Spanish empire. The spark grew to a flame which, over the next eighty years, that would upend the existing global order. Starting in 1570, The Dutch Revolt set in motion as global chain of events that ushered in a golden age of navigation, world commerce, connected cultures, and new scientific ideas. Immigrants from Spanish persecution flocked to the North Country. The Dutch colonial empire replaced Spain’s. Paintings by artists like Rembrandt and de Hooch would give shape to a more civilized world. “There is no race more open to humanity and kindness, or less given to wildness and ferocious behavior,” wrote Erasmus, speaking of the Dutch.

Now, new young-adult fiction revisits that pivotal period, with teen protagonists at the center of the action. Author Tom Durwood, who teaches with the Naval Warfare Special Development Group and at Valley Forge Military College, has posted a short story, “The Caliph’s Gift,” on his book site. It tells of a young shipping cleric caught up in the landscape and intrigue of the Dutch Revolt. Set in Amsterdam as the Dutch administered lucrative and risky sea voyages from Lisbon to Macao (and all points between), the story follows the fortunes of book-keeper Matty Sykes, as he is lured into the dark shadows of  international intrigue.

For Durwood, it is the coming together of two longtime loves: history and adventure fiction. “I grew up on Treasure Island and Robert E. Howard,” he says, “and a Kidnapped-style storyline seemed the perfect vehicle to bring to life these fascinating moments in history.” He is offering the story free, in rotation with six of the seven stories in his collection Ulysses S Grant in China and Other Stories.

Durwood especially admires historical novelists like David Liss (A Conspiracy of Paper) and Naomi Novik (Her Majesty’s Dragon), who are able to bring complex trade and commercial issues into their storylines. He feels well-grounded by the cadets he teaches at Valley Forge. “I always know how much background information my students can absorb before they need some entertainment,” he says. As a result, The Caliph’s Gift is stocked with assassins, knife fights, and deadly moonlight encounters.

To help make his fiction accessible to young readers, Durwood has engaged West Coast artists Edmund Liang, Angela Sung, Kirk Shinmoto and Thomas Zenteno to add illustrations to his adventure tales. Readers will see 22 of their moody illustrations as well as interviews with three of the illustrators (

Other stories in the collection feature similar brave teens in dire circumstances. “Succession” takes place in the midst of Africa’s Benin Kingdom wars, and “Love in the High Sierras” in the bitter struggle over land between ranchers and grangers in the California territories, circa 1870.

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