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The Sage of Waterloo: A Tale

3.30  ·  Rating details ·  228 ratings  ·  58 reviews
The extraordinary debut of a classical pianist turned novelist, The Sage of Waterloo is a playful retelling of a key turning point in human history and a slyly profound reflection on our place in the world. William is a white rabbit living at Hougoumont, the historic farm on the site of the Battle of Waterloo. Under the tutelage of his grandmother Old Lavender, William att ...more
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published June 1st 2015 by W. W. Norton Company (first published May 8th 2015)
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Robin
May 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
A first novel that holds its own special magic to it. I can see why many people may pick up this book and think the concept preposterous, although a real reader will take on the challenge, engage their imagination and stay open to this precious little story that holds lots of big life and death questions. Charming and insightful.
LadyRose
This book has so many sayings that are so wise and deep that are fit for rabbits as well as humans it makes you smile and have to reread them a few times...then you get out your notebook of fave quotations to add them into it. It has a great ending and leaves you feeling fully satisfied about both stories that are told in the book, the white rabbit William's tale of growing up in the hutch and being sold to a family as their only pet rabbit and his thoughts through it all including finding frien ...more
Christine
The riffs on religion, life, and choice were interesting, but the character of William didn't really seem rabbity too me. It is a magic fable more than anything like a novel. Still some lovely writing and thought provoking passages.
Patricia Ann
May 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A really fantastic book about the battle of Waterloo told by
a white rabbit and his grandmother. The tale was
written by an amazing new author who researched
the history of the battle in so much detail that she included
many not well known snippets of the battle, the soldiers, and
people who lived in the area. She included detailed aftermaths
of the war, even those that one does not normally think about.
Readers might even derive that the philosophy of the rabbits may be
worthy to ponder.
Janet Palmer
Aug 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
Very clever and thought provoking, not only the bunny's musings on war and all its impacts, but on what it is to take risk, move forward, and also find beauty where at first glance there is none to be seen. Will definitely read again to more slowly savor certain thoughts. Also, now I have to read some accounts of the battle of Waterloo. Kudos to the author and publisher for taking a chance on what some would think would be a book that no one would want to read!
Kim
Nov 06, 2015 rated it did not like it
At first, I thought The Sage of Waterloo was one of those books that ought to have been a short story: too little pith awash in too much narrative, stretched out to novella length to please an editor or a publisher or a self-indulgent author. After finishing the book, I can safely say this is not so: The Sage of Waterloo should've been an essay on Waterloo, hold the rabbit and/or the sage.

There is no story in this book. Or rather, the story in this book is only about Waterloo, the battle and the
...more
Darth
May 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Wowee, boys and girls, what a charming little tale about history and humans and war and all their places in this world.

Don't really know how to describe this tale. The Battle of Waterloo retold by a rabbit, is what I'll go for. Except it's so much more than that, as tales with animal protagonists often are. Scoff if you will, but I point to others like Animal Farm and Watership Down. Obviously this tale did remind me a bit of Watership Down, in that both are told by rabbits. But this story had
...more
K
Apr 01, 2015 rated it it was ok
When I finished the book and re-read the back cover summary, I couldn’t argue: that’s definitely what this book was about. But I never quite fell into step with the story. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but the “sage” part of the title is absolutely the operative word. The first half of the book was like an extended transcript of The Last Unicorn’s butterfly (if he were a history buff), and the end seemed to think that Now Is the Time to Make a Point (though of course, the maturation of the ...more
Sherri
Oct 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
This could have been really twee or a hectoring diatribe about war and human nature. Fortunately it is neither, it deals primarily with rabbits and history, with humans kept at a distance.

Places can be repositories of memory, a shivery feeling of something--dread, fear or joy--can remain long after events have happened. Without getting too metaphysical Francombe describes the way nature absorbs memory generations after the events have passed.

William, the rabbit who narrates the story, tells ho
...more
Sharyn
Jul 31, 2015 rated it liked it
After reading a really good review in the LA Times, I went to my library and they had 2 copies! I don't know if it is going to be that popular of a book, because I must admit it is one of the weirder books I have ever read. It is not a book I could read right through, but I am glad I read it. It is beautifully written and quite philosophical. I wanted to read it because so many of the Regency's I read talk about Waterloo, and the soldiers who come home from the battle, and how they are psycholog ...more
Amanda
Mar 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
Utterly charming and well worth the time to read. This is a unique and unusual take on the battle of Waterloo, as told from the point of view of rabbits. I really did enjoy it, it's a history lesson that you don't realize you're getting. I'm going to pass this book on to my 10 year old daughter because I'm sure she will love it too. It did remind me a bit of Watership Down, but just a little, this book is thoroughly in a class of its own. I'm not sure where the author got this idea, but I'm look ...more
Uwe Hook
Jan 20, 2016 rated it liked it
I'd compare this book to mushed banana baby food in that there's a sweetness and while it's not bad, there's really nothing to particularly recommend it. Rather than present the Waterloo narrative in a few large, important scenes, the author drops it in here and there, and in such small doses, that there are multitudes of sharp jumps. Juxtaposed to the picturesque background, which is a beautifully painted pastoral, it's unnerving, leaving one with the impression of reading the writings of an ob ...more
BJ  Brown
Sep 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
I don't think I would have enjoyed The Sage. . .nearly as much if William were a human narrator. A lagomorph's point of view makes possible the book's rich sensory detail as well as its central principle: memory persists in a place. In the end, no matter what William and Old Lavender before him have said, there is more than earth and sky. So much lies in-between if you but cultivate the gift of seeing it. As I closed the book, I thought seriously about going back to the beginning, so that I coul ...more
James
Jun 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
I wanted to read something about Waterloo for the big anniversary, but no way was I going to wade through a 400-600 page serious history book. So this book tidily supplied exactly what I wanted in that respect.

Unfortunately, the storytelling style leaves something to be desired, although frankly, hearing the story of the Battle of Waterloo told from the perspective of a white rabbit was pretty ingenious as a plot device or what-have-you.

Overall, it isn't Watership Down meets Sharp's Rifles, but
...more
Susan Zinner
Jul 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
There are two kinds of people: those who read a NYT review of a book about the Battle of Waterloo narrated by rabbits and think that that sounds great and everyone else. If you are in the former camp (as I am), this is an interesting blend of natural history and Napoleonic history narrated by the rabbit William, whose grandmother, Old Lavender, was there; in poetic and wise words, she guides William into adulthood. While comparisons to "Watership Down" are inevitable, this novel stands on its ow ...more
Kristin
Nov 30, 2015 rated it liked it
This is one of two books I finished this past weekend. Both started out slowly, even sluggishly, and I was having challenges buying in to each book's "concept". I wanted to, but it was not flowing for either. They are short books so about 1/3 to 1/2 way through we "clicked" and I was captured.

Short review: Short, Subtle, Slow-Starting, Stick-with-it, Satisfying

Favorite quote:

"If it's true what she once said-that we live in relation to our memories every minute of the day-then surely, I thought,
...more
 wade
Mar 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
A unique fantasy about the history of a group of rabbits who have lived for centuries at the site of Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo. The central character, William, learns much from his grandmother Old Lavender who eavesdrops on two women that sit on a park bench and read histories about the battle that occurred there. William is a white rabbit and this spurs his interest to find the line of rabbits he descended from. Similar to Watership Down but with less drama.
Sheila
Aug 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
Comparisons to Watership Down will be inevitable, but this book has a very different approach. The simple description is that it is a rabbit's version of Waterloo, but it is so much more. Along with the history, in itself very interesting, there is a certain amount of philosophy, mythology, and rabbit lore. It is a short book, but not a quick read because it is so thought provoking. I really liked it and I know a reread is in my future.
Bunnyhugger
Jan 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Simply wonderful! I am already rereading it.
Phyllis
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Gayle Slagle
Jan 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The Sage of Waterloo by first time author Leona Francombe is a little gem of a tale. A synopsis of the book probably does not do it justice because on the surface it is a fantastical story told by a rabbit, William, who lives on a farm on the site of the Battle of Waterloo. Hmmm, a rabbit telling a story; I know it sounds a bit weird and something you might not be interested in, but somehow Francombe makes it work. There are several stories going on in this novel. First, William relates the stor ...more
Sarah Wagner
Jul 26, 2017 rated it liked it
This book felt vaguely reminiscent of Watership Down to me, likely due to the rabbit narrator. William is a rabbit at Hougoumont, an old farm near the site of the Battle of Waterloo. The battle and the myths surrounding it loom large in this book, as the rabbits thoroughly discuss and dissect the battle which so transformed their home. Overall, this was an odd read, but not bad. I just couldn't help but feeling something was missing from the story to pull the concepts together and drive the acti ...more
Smg
Jul 21, 2020 rated it liked it
As I began reading was so excited about this book, loved how thoroughly embedded the reader is in the rabbit’s perspective, though I find in the end that I do wish the story had taken place in the present time of the Waterloo battle. As it is, this toggled back and forth between the present time of the narrator and the battle of Waterloo, and I wished the two strands were more integrated. That said, some beautiful writing at times.
Andrea
Jul 24, 2019 rated it liked it
When I first picked this book up, I thought that the rabbit narrator had actually witnessed the Battle of Waterloo. It turned out he was 200 years removed, having heard the stories passed down through generations to his grandmother, Old Lavender, who lectured the bunnies on the events of June 18, 1815. Thus, I didn't find this book as gripping as I had hoped. However, I did enjoy reading it.
Barbara Kieffer
Jul 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a wonderful story -- I learned so much about the history of the Battle of Waterloo, told from the perspective of a family of rabbits at the Farm at Hougoumont. This book was a wonderful combination of my love of history and my love of animals.
Alana
Sep 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
What an odd, gentle sort of book. The writing was gorgeous and the history compelling, but if you're looking for something with a lot of driving action, I'd look elsewhere.
Marlene
Jun 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Originally published at Reading Reality

“What is legend, though, but history written in the way that moves us most?”

The above quote is from The Sage of Waterloo by Leona Francombe, and it seems like a pithy saying that contains much truth.

The story itself is a mixture of what history, through the survivors, records of the truth of the Battle of Waterloo, or at least one small but vital section of it, and the legends that have accreted around that truth, both among the humans and among the rabbits
...more
Heather
May 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Near the end of The Sage of Waterloo Old Lavender says, “But I can assure you that our kind of journeys – the sort you take without moving – are even more adventurous and illuminating.” This is the philosophy of The Sage of Waterloo. Not much happens in terms of plot. The rabbits live in their hutch on a farm near Waterloo and reflect on the battle there two hundred years past. They escape a few times, but never go far, until the narrator, William, is chosen as a pet by a family who lives in Bru ...more
Laura Littlefield
Apr 07, 2015 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Stacey D.
Jul 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
A really special story of the Siege of Waterloo as told by the unlikeliest of witnesses: a white rabbit named William. Actually, he tells the story of that momentous battle, as had been recounted to him by his very large, curmudgeonly but wise grandmother, Old Lavender. At its heart, the novel is about history and our place, sense, smells (!) and memories of the world. I was very glad I looked up the Battle of Waterloo before starting the novel, which occurred on June 18, 1815, so I was familiar ...more
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2017 Reading Chal...: The Sage of Waterloo 3 22 Oct 22, 2015 04:22AM  

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Leona Francombe is a classical pianist who attended Bryn Mawr College and the Yale School of Music. She lives in Brussels, Belgium, with her husband and two children. This is her first book.

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