Review & Guest Post: The Chessmen Thief / Barbara Henderson

BooksforTopics Reading for Pleasure Recommendations

The Chessmen Thief (available here) is an atmospheric Viking adventure set on the Isle of Lewis, from Scottish author and drama teacher Barbara Henderson.

Read on for a review of The Chessmen Thief and then head over to author Barbara's guest booklist exploring 5 favourite children's books set on Scottish Islands.


Book Title: The Chessmen Thief (available here)

Author: Barbara Henderson

Illustrator: Sandra McGowan

Publisher: Cranachan

Publication Date: April 2021

Most Suitable for: Upper KS2

Reviewed by: Christine Wall

Set in the Viking era, The Chessmen Thief is an intriguing tale of 12-year-old Kylan’s quest to return to his mother having been captured by Norsemen when he was just 7 years old. However, with everything the Almighty keeps throwing his way, will he be able to make it?

Kylan – a thrall, a slave for a harsh and unforgiving craftsman – thinks all hope is lost and he will never get the opportunity to return to his home, the Southern Isles, to find his mother. His memory of her is beginning to fade, except her fiery red hair and an important message she gave him as she was whisked away… ‘The Isle of Lewis. It’s your home Kylan. Never forget it.’ When an opportunity presents itself, Kylan knows he has to summon all of his courage to ensure it doesn’t slip through his fingers. The Lewis Chessmen – which his master reluctantly let him help carve – are his only hope. However, great craftsmanship gains attention, including that of Sven Asleifsson, a cruel and barbaric Viking known throughout the realm.

Based on the real-life Lewis Chessmen (a group of distinctive 12th-century chess pieces discovered in 1831 on the Isle of Lewis), The Chessmen Thief is a great addition to existing Vikings themed booklists – it does not shy away from subject-specific vocabulary, however is an easy read and therefore may be a suitable choice for lower year groups within Key Stage 2. Barbara Henderson has carefully crafted the plot around the chess motif and the story is not overwhelmed with action and gore, as can often be the case with books written about this era. The narrative includes enough action to keep the reader engaged, however provides enough space for readers to wonder how the story will progress.

The book would particularly complement history topics for those teaching in Scotland, providing opportunities to find out about the Viking era closer to home.

This book also features as one of our April 2021 Books of the Month.

You can order The Chessmen Thief from Amazon or Bookshop.Org.


Guest Post

Click here to read author Barbara Henderson's guest booklist featuring 5 favourite children's books set on Scottish islands.


You can order The Chessmen Thief from Amazon or Bookshop.Org.

Many thanks to the publishers for sending us a review copy and to Barbara for providing the guest post.


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