Shadrach Byfield may well be the most unlucky, down-trodden and generally put-upon young hero to trod the pages of a novel since Charles Dickens put pen to paper and immortalized Oliver Twist. Shadrach, for his part, contrives to bribe his way out of the workhouses of Newcastle, but it costs him half his enlistment bounty and soon the 41st Regiment takes ship to Canada. Service under General Brock proves worse, if such could possibly be the case, than the beatings and taunts Shadrach suffered as a schoolboy under the hand of his arch-nemesis, John Quarry. Shadrach is a survivor, and in the end he outlasts Quarry, but in the middle Redcoat is the whole story of Shadrach Byfield's travels and travails from the time he left Branxton Lane to his return, many years later, after he (in his own words) 'had lived to be a man'.
'In Redcoat, Sass succeeds in transporting his reader back to the early years of the 1800's, and he accomplishes this first and foremost by creating an eminently believable character with whom the young reader can identify. Once this identification occurs, the same historical details and background material which many young readers would reject in a history text, become integral props in a compelling story.'
'Redcoat is a young man's novel, somewhat reminiscent of Cue For Treason by Geoffrey Trease. The hero, a thirteen-year-old boy from a poor Scottish borderland family, flees bullying, injustice, and cruelty at home, only to find greater injustice, cruelty, and danger as a British infantry-man in 1811-1812. After recruitment and a few week's training, he is shipped to Qu?bec, thence to Upper Canada to fight the Americans. Surviving a successful battle at Detroit, he deserts his regiment, is forced to join a band of Indians, is involved in further fighting, suffers the loss of a hand, endures a flogging, and loses a friend. He is then shipped back to England, finally returning to his native village and the forgiveness of his father.'
'Redcoat is a gutsy little book. In a frantic quick-march, the reader follows 13-year-old Shadrack Byfield from his poor miller's home to the workhouses of Newcastle, into the army and on to a troop ship bound for colonial service. Under General Brock, Byfield descends into the crucible of war, deserts the army, picks up with a rebel Indian force and is captured by his former regiment, at whose hands he learns the humiliating meaning of what it is to wear a red coat. ... Sass evokes the terrible twilight world of poverty from which his young hero escapes into the still more nightmarish degradation of soldiering. The text is bewildering in places; meaning is outstripped by the gruelling pace. But this surreal discontinuity, especially notable in battle skirmishes, serves a dramatic purpose. Sass summons up a vision of warfare in which there are no sides, no strategy or grand plan, but only frightened lads pathetically scurrying around in the dark trying not to get killed. Young Byfield's most heroic act is to survive this world of spontaneous fire, lice, vomit, amputations and the obscenity of punishment out of all proportion to crime. Sass delivers this important message in a compulsively readable story.'