Tag Archives: historical

YA Review: Worlds of Ink and Shadow by Lena Coakley

worlds of ink and shadowWorlds of Ink and Shadow, Lena Coakley (Abrams & Chronicle, 2016)

Genres in the mix: historical, fantasy, supernatural, gothic

Age target: YA

Goodreads summary: Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne. The Brontë siblings have always been close. After all, nothing can unite four siblings quite like life in an isolated parsonage on the moors. Their vivid imaginations lend them escape from their strict, spartan upbringing, actually transporting them into their created worlds: the glittering Verdopolis and the romantic and melancholy Gondal. But at what price? As Branwell begins to slip into madness and the sisters feel their real lives slipping away, they must weigh the cost of their powerful imaginations, even as their characters—the brooding Rogue and dashing Duke of Zamorna—refuse to let them go.

What sucked me in? Well, I am an English teacher with a lot of love for Wuthering Heights, who did drag a poor unsuspecting bf to their bront charlotte bront c11390 01childhood home, the Brontë Parsonage, aged 17 …

For those of you who are less Brontë-nerdy than me, the siblings really did invent worlds, Gondal and Angria – Verdopolis is a city in Angria – and write stories of adventure taking place there. These are all recorded in miniscule handwriting in tiny books that can mostly still be seen in Haworth at the Brontë Parsonage museum. At the same time, I was aware that the book combined Brontë knowledge with a fantasy element and I do love a good YA fantasy so I was sold on the idea!

So, how did the book live up to my Brontë-nerdly expectations? It did so well! It’s clear that Lena Coakley knows her stuff when it comes to the core research – the key characters, the Yorkshire moors, society of the time etc. I just felt that she was probably a lot like me and we’d get on really well. I think she had a lot of fun with the material. There were clear echoes of various Brontë novels (probably more than I picked up – I don’t know Anne’s work particularly), but I also really enjoyed the fantasy element that she introduced to explain how Gondal and Verdopolis worked and to create the story’s plot and conflict. Overall, I thought it was great and really enjoyed it. I think it’s probably a lot more fun if you do already know the background, but I’m sure it also stands on its own.


Classroom opportunities: In terms of teaching, I would recommend it to Lit A Level students who’ve enjoyed the Brontës as fun reading, particularly if they’re also taking/are into creative writing, as I think it’s a great example of playing with existing stories and ideas. I’m sure it wouldn’t be approved of as official ‘wider reading’, but for students who read widely, it would be an interesting choice.

Hearthfire rating: 8/10 Sizzling

Worlds of Ink and Shadow is out now in from Abrams & Chronicle, who provided me with a review copy.

Accepting a review copy does not affect my view of a book and I only finish and review books that I feel able to recommend.

February’s Reading Log

It’s time for the monthly round-up! These posts help keep track of the reading challenges I’m doing this year and also give a quick shout-out for all the books I’ve been reading (not just those I review).

I won’t give too much detail here (as this kind of post gets long really quickly) – just a quick summary of each book read and some stats. The book titles link to their Goodreads pages for more info.

Despite February being a fabulously bookish month for me (I went to two brilliant events: the launch of Arsenic for Tea and the first UKYA Extravaganza), I did less well than in January with 7 books completed and many of my personal challenge aims missed (although I did read both British Books and Diverse Books).

Oh well, better luck next month!

Feb reads

Arsenic for TeaRobin Stevens, Random House Children’s, 2015, 9+ historical mystery

Set in the 1930s, this is a classic Country House Murder Mystery for kids. It’s the second in the Wells and Wong series which started with Murder Most Unladylike. I cannot recommend this highly enough – both for kids and for adult fans of boarding school series and/or kids’ crime. A triumph of diverse representation as well as a brilliantly conceived mystery.

Close Your Pretty Eyes, Sally Nicholls, Scholastic, 2013, YA contemporary with chiller/thriller elements

I really enjoyed this: clever first person narrative, heartbreaking in places, great is-it-or-isn’t-it haunting plot. Hard to classify, or to sum up briefly. If a damaged narrator (she’s 11 and on her 16th home…) and a vengeful ghost appeals at all, definitely pick it up.

Counting by 7s, Holly Goldberg Sloan,  Piccadilly Press, 2013, YA contemporary

A quirky read that grew on me fairly rapidly: by the end I was definitely rooting for Olivia and the bizarre group of people she had surrounded herself with. The story of a teenage genius who loses both parents in a car accident, this is also about family and community an identity. Worth sticking with.

The Dead Men Stood Together, Chris Priestley, Bloomsbury, 2013, YA chiller/horror

Fabulously inventive re-imagining of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which I believe would be a brilliantly enjoyable tale even if you didn’t know the original. Reading it from a position of being familiar with the story, however, it is impossible not to admire how Priestley has filled in the gaps and made it a solid YA horror/chiller for today.

All The Truth That’s In Me, Julie Berry, Templar, 2013, YA historical

I remember seeing a lot of hype about this one and was disappointed when it came to reading it myself. I found the narration quite disorienting (it’s like a letter directly addressed to another character) but the mystery of what has happened to the central character – she was kidnapped and returned around two years later with her tongue cut out – is intriguing enough to carry it.

The Sky Is Everywhere, Jandy Nelson, Walker, 2010, YA contemporary

This book is just lovely, which is an odd thing to say about a book that focuses on grief and mourning, I know, but it is also about love and forgiveness and families – and poetry. It’s also extraordinarily well-done. I loved Lennie’s poems shared within the pages and also the quirkiness of her family. Highly recommended for those who love a convincingly emotional YA novel.

Bird, Crystal Chan, Tamarind, 2014, YA contemporary

This is a great read in terms of diversity, focusing as it does on a Jamaican-Mexican-American family and particularly discussing clashes in the beliefs and traditions of those different cultures. It does so very well, and is another heartbreaking family story. I definitely enjoyed its dreamy and lyrical qualities and would recommend it for 12+ readers.

Challenges Progress this month – books read:

I did so much less well this month in terms of challenges! No TBR-reduction, no personal challenge met and no own (as in neither review nor for school) books read. Oops!

UKYA/UKMG titles: Arsenic for Tea, Close Your Pretty Eyes, The Dead Men Stood Together.

Reviews published this month:

Full reviews: Arsenic for Tea, Squishy McFluff, The Weight of Souls,

eligible for British Books Challenge: Arsenic for Tea, Squishy McFluff,

eligible for Dive Into Diversity Challenge: Arsenic for Tea (narrator is from Hong Kong)

Plans for next month

To prioritise my challenges (which, remember, I did set for myself, after all!)

To read some of the books I picked up at the fabulous UKYA Extravaganza.

January’s Reading Log

I thought I’d start doing monthly round-up posts, to help keep track of the reading challenges I’m doing this year and also to give a quick shout-out for all the books I’ve been reading (not just those I review).

I won’t give too much detail here (as this kind of post gets long really quickly) – just a quick summary of each book read and some stats. The book titles link to their Goodreads pages for more info.

jan 2015 reads

Rose Under Fire Elizabeth Wein, Egmont (Electric Monkey), 2014, YA historical

Set in 1944-5, this is the tale of a young woman transport pilot.  Beautifully written, direct and unsentimental, I’ve been recommending this at school for Holocaust Memorial Day.

The Ultimate Truth (Travis Delaney Investigates #1) Kevin Brooks, Macmillan Children’s, 2014, 11+ action adventure

A great read; really enjoyed it. Lots of plausible action (well, as plausible as spy/crime thrillers can be! – but I mean that this didn’t feel wrong for the age of the protagonist), together with solid early-teen territory of identity/family issues.

Heroes Robert Cormier, Pearson (Longman), 1998, YA historical

A reread for teaching purposes, and one I did enjoy (again). I’m glad I chose this novel for my class, as it deals with complex ideas and issues without the language being particularly showy or hard to access. The first person memoir-style narration is probably what helps this the most.

Why We Took the Car Wolfgang Herrndorf, Andersen, 2014, YA contemporary

I enjoyed this very voicey road-trip story featuring an unlikely friendship and a truly crazy, twisted story line. At times, however, I found the voice and far-fetched nature of it all got a bit much for me. I think fans of boy-focused, somewhat silly stories would love it.

The Bubble-Wrap Boy Phil Earle, Puffin, 2014, YA contemporary

Fabulous and surprising, this book was both funnier and twistier than I expected, while being just as tender and sweet as anticipated. A very quick read which I was keen to keep returning to.

The Last Leaves Falling Sarah Benwell, Random House, 2015, YA contemporary

Emotional and fulfilling read. Great to read about a different culture (the book is set in Japan) and to learn more about the experience of someone with ALS. Ultimately, it’s about friendship, family and courage. This was my review for both the British Books and Dive into Diversity challenges this month.

Looking at the Stars Jo Cotterill, Random House, 2014, YA contemporary

Moving and often challenging read about a young girl and her family struggling under a totalitarian state. I appreciated the invented and non-specific setting, as I feel it made the presentation of oppression purer.

The Liar’s Chair Rebecca Whitney, Macmillan, 2015, adult crime

Original and tense psychological thriller peopled with a thoroughly unpleasant cast. A really compelling read, and a grippingly accurate portrayal of emotional abuse.

Picture Me Gone Meg Rosoff, Penguin, 2013, YA contemporary

I didn’t really like this gentle mystery combined with a road trip story – I found the lack of speech punctuation completely distracting and the main character unconvincing. I know that some feel the lack of quotation marks makes it more stream of consciousness, so if you’re not as much of a punctuation pedant as I am, you may well enjoy it. The portrayal of relationships, especially familial, is a strength.

Buffalo Soldier Tanya Landman, Walker, 2014, YA historical

Fabulous voice used to convey some hard-hitting and emotional material: the tale of Charlotte, a slave who, when freed in the Civil War, disguises herself as a boy/man and joins the US Army. I knew very little about the history presented here and am very glad to have read it. Brilliantly written, often moving but never sentimental or manipulative.

Now You See Me Emma Haughton, Usborne, 2014, YA thriller

Well-executed thriller which I was compelled to keep reading. Some brilliant characterisations (I especially loved little Alice, who has Down’s Syndrome) and plenty of tension and twists.

Squishy McFluff, The Invisible Cat Pip Jones, Faber & Faber, 2014, children’s animal/family

This delightful story, told entirely in rhyme, is a hilarious and well-told tale in the tradition of stories where younger kids can vicariously enjoy the characters’ naughtiness. The story is complemented perfectly by Ella Okstad’s lovely illustrations. Strongly recommended for older picture book fans and kids who are just starting to read for themselves.

Challenges Progress this month – books read:

UKYA/UKMG titles: Rose Under Fire, The Ultimate Truth, The Bubble-Wrap Boy, The Last Leaves Falling, Looking at the Stars, Picture Me Gone, Now You See Me

All YA this month, but I’m planning to kick February off with an exciting UKMG…

own book: Now You See Me

TBR-escapee: Squishy McFluff

12 personal challenges: Buffalo Soldier (book set in a place or time I haven’t read about before)

Reviews published this month:

Full reviews: Station Eleven, The Last Leaves Falling, The Fearless, The Witch of Salt and Storm

Mini reviews: Chasing Stars, Crushed, Witch Hunt

eligible for British Books Challenge: The Last Leaves Falling, (note that The Fearless is also a British Book but I read it before January so it doesn’t count for the challenge)

eligible for Dive Into Diversity Challenge: The Last Leaves Falling (Japanese setting, MC has ALS)

Plans for next month

February is looking very exciting for books: I’m attending Robin Stevens’ launch of Arsenic for Tea (the follow-up to Murder Most Unladylike) on the 7th and UKYA Extravaganza in Birmingham on the 28th. 35 UKYA authors!! I’m also participating in the blog tour to celebrate this event and will be hosting Alan Gibbons here at the Hearthfire on the 22nd.

In terms of my reading, I plan to kick February off with Arsenic for Tea and I also need to read some fantasy. It’s one of top 3 genres, yet I didn’t read any this month!

Speed reviews (4-Star YA Sequels Edition): Chasing Stars, Crushed, Witch Hunt


I’m going to be featuring a few of these speed review posts over the next few weeks, as I catch up with things. As always, I only review books that I enjoyed, so you can always take a review on here as a recommendation. I’ll be theming these speed review posts and taking 2-4 books at a time.

Today, I’ve got three lovely YA sequels for you. All three of these books were 4-star Goodreads ratings (really liked it) for me, and all have some SFF elements: sci-fi (time travel), urban fantasy or historical fantasy.

chasing starsChasing Stars by Helen Douglas is the second and final part of the story from After Eden. In this instalment, Eden travels to Ryan’s time, where he is in big trouble for the events of the first book. I really enjoyed getting to see Helen Douglas’s version of the future, and seeing how both Eden and Ryan develop. The new characters introduced – Ryan’s friends, family and other key players in the future – were also interesting and varied. I found the ending a little too open for my taste, but it does wrap up the main threads, I’d just like to know what happens to them next!

After Eden and Chasing Stars are out now from Bloomsbury.

crushedCrushed by Eliza Crewe is the sequel to Cracked, and this one I enjoyed even more than the first. The main character here is Meda, who eats souls, and the main narrative thrust is her developing morality and humanity. In this book, we learn much more of where Meda comes from and what makes her so uniquely poised between the dark and the light. The characters and the voice are the main strengths of this, particularly the contrast between snarky, kick-ass Meda and the wonderfully earnest Jo. If you like unusual, action-packed urban fantasy, you should definitely check out this series.

Cracked and Crushed are both available at Amazon.

witch huntRuth Warburton’s Witch Hunt is the follow-up to Witch Finder, and completes Rosa and Luke’s story. A marvellous historical fantasy featuring a society of witchfinders and a council of witches (both of which also feature in Ruth’s contemporary witchy series, A Witch in Winter), this episode sees absolutely everyone chasing poor Luke and Rosa. I really enjoyed how these characters developed, despite everything thrown at them and would definitely recommend it to lovers of witchy and/or historical reads. Again, I found the ending a little more open than I would have liked, and was surprised when I first read it, but on thinking about it, it makes more sense than the alternatives and is entirely true to the characters.

Witch Finder and Witch Hunt are out now from Hodder.

Review: Witch Finder by Ruth Warburton

witch finderRichly evoked historical fantasy with adventure and romance. A treat of a read.

Having enjoyed Ruth Warburton’s first series, the Winter trilogy (A Witch in Winter, A Witch in Love and A Witch Alone), I was excited to read this. Like that series, this novel revolves around witches, but where the first was set in the contemporary UK, this novel reaches back into the past and is set in nineteenth century London. I was delighted to find that organisations from the Winter series are also part of the universe for this story. Having said that, if you haven’t yet read the Winter novels, this would not be a problem as everything is perfectly clear (and of course, chronologically this series comes first!) Yes, I did say series – there will be more to come, much to my delight.

I loved Luke the blacksmith (and Malleus Maleficarum initiate) from the very beginning. Young, determined and eager to please, he has our sympathy easily. His world is dark and the people around him lead difficult lives. Ruth Warburton conjures up the Victorian world in crisp and grimy detail. Although firmly in the fantasy genre thanks to its witches, this is a gem of a historical novel which fully immerses you in a realistic setting. At the same time, Rosa Greenwood, the young witch who is Luke’s first challenge, rapidly gained my sympathy. I also enjoyed the contrast between Luke’s Spitalfields world of poverty and dirt and Rosa’s life in finer society. As I’m sure you can see, the novel has plenty of tension focused around the central conflict.

Overall, I enjoyed the book for its development of Luke and Rosa’s characters and their relationships  -which is clearly the primary focus of the novel. I also found a lot of pleasure in the way Ruth Warburton expands and refers to the universe created in the Winter trilogy. I would absolutely recommend this novel to readers of fantasy, witchcraft and historical novels.

From the Book Description:

London. 1880. In the slums of Spitalfields apprentice blacksmith Luke is facing initiation into the Malleus Maleficorum, the fearsome brotherhood dedicated to hunting and killing witches.

Luke’s final test is to pick a name at random from the Book of Witches, a name he must track down and kill within a month, or face death himself. Luke knows that tonight will change his life forever. But when he picks out sixteen-year-old Rosa Greenwood, Luke has no idea that his task will be harder than he could ever imagine.


Out now from Hodder Children’s Books – see their website for more information. My grateful thanks for allowing me a review copy via NetGalley.

Review: Witchfall by Victoria Lamb

More Tudor Witch romance, intrigue and danger 

If you enjoyed Witchstruck at all (as I definitely did), even the slightest bit, you must read Witchfall. Victoria Lamb has ramped things up for the second instalment of her YA Tudor Witch trilogy: more complexity to the romance, more shadowy danger to our beloved protagonist as well as more historical reference.

The settings in this novel are great and beautifully done. The politicised atmosphere at court and the more rustic country setting are both rendered clearly for the reader, as well as the dreadful vision which plagues poor Meg more and more through the novel. Dangers are definitely lurking everywhere, and this is a very tense read.

It’s difficult to say much for a sequel without giving away spoilers, but you should know that the plotting in this novel is first rate. The tension is managed exquisitely, and even when you are sure you know what’s going to happen next, there are surprises and twists in store. I am also enjoying the cast of characters created in this series and am very much looking forward to seeing how it is all tied together in the end.

I think the second book in a trilogy must be quite difficult to get right and I am always grumpy with a book which leaves too many loose ends. Witchfall skilfully draws together threads that were introduced in Witchstruck without them having felt like loose ends, and also weaves in (and ties off) new ones effectively. There is clearly mileage to explore and conclude in the next novel, but this is no irritating cliffhanger.

Overall, if you enjoy historical fiction and/or witchy books and/or YA romance, I would definitely recommend this series.

Goodreads Summary

London, 1554. At the court of Mary Tudor, life is safe for no one. The jealous, embittered queen sees enemies all around her, and the infamous Spanish Inquisition holds the court in its merciless grip. But Meg Lytton has more reason to be afraid than most – for Meg is a witch, and exposure would mean certain death. Even more perilous, Meg is secretly betrothed to the young priest Alejandro de Castillo; a relationship which they must hide at all costs.

In the service of the queen’s sister, Princess Elizabeth, Meg tries to use her powers to foretell her mistress’s future. But when a spell goes terribly wrong, and Meg begins to have horrifying dreams, she fears she has released a dark spirit into the world, intent on harming her and those around her.

Out now from Corgi Children’s Books
Visit the author’s website for more info or check out this blog tour interview from last year
My grateful thanks to the publisher for allowing me a review copy via NetGalley

Review: Hagwitch by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick

Mystery and folklore in a theatrical setting for readers of 10+

This novel snagged my attention quickly and kept me entranced. It’s spot on for the older child/younger teen reader and offers them a thrilling story, with enough challenge in the structure to keep them interested without turning them off, and brilliant characters to engage with.

Using a dual narrative to present the weird and creepy hagwitch lore in two separate timeframes, the structure has plenty of interest of its own. With just the right amount of danger and creepiness for the target age group, the novel also explores identity and being an outsider in a gentle and subtle way. I loved both Lally and Flea, each slightly awkward in their own ways. Both are trying to figure out where they belong, while also battling with the knowledge that something isn’t right and the adults around them need their help to first notice and then solve the problem. Lally, living on a canal boat in an unconventional family, is modern and yet isolated – she doesn’t go to school, have friends her own age or use the internet. Flea, a sixteenth-century apprentice is a country boy in London, often out of place and somewhat naive.

The settings are fabulous. London is a well-used setting, but offering a sixteenth century theatre-based setting to contrast with a contemporary timeline featuring a canal barge running a marionette theatre made it fresh and exciting. I’m sure many child readers would recognise some of the details about sixteenth century theatre from learning about Shakespeare (who does get a mention) and the Tudors, and that this would enhance their enjoyment. The puppet barge (based apparently on a real Puppet Theatre Barge) gives a quirky twist to the contemporary plotline.

The core mystery of the hagwitch, drawing on folklore around the hawthorn and bird lore (crows and jackdaws especially), is inventive and enticing. The story as a whole feels highly original and exciting, skilfully weaving folklore elements into both a historical and a contemporary plot.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this for many types of reader, successfully combining historical, fantasy and contemporary elements as this novel does.

From the publisher’s website:

Gothic thriller for 10+ by Irish author Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick. Celtic legend, a malevolent faery queen and the dark underbelly of the theatreworld come to life as two stories of 16th-century London and the modern day interweave in this gripping tale full of dark secrets and magic.

16th-century London, Flea Nettleworth, apprentice to a playwright, watches as his struggling master’s fortunes turn, and all of a sudden London is in his thrall. But soon Flea’s master can no longer tell where the imagined world ends and the real one begins. Could the arrival of a mysterious Faery Elder trunk hold the answer?

Modern day, Lally lives on a barge, roaming the canalways and performing shows with her puppeteer father. Then, after Lally’s father pulls an ancient piece of wood from the canal and fashions it into a puppet, his success seems unstoppable. As her father’s obsession with his puppet grows and his plays become darker, Lally begins to wonder if there is something rather sinister, dangerous even, about the wooden doll.

Published March 2013 by Orion Children’s
for more info, visit the publisher’s website
My grateful thanks to the publishers for providing a beautiful review copy

Review: The Disgrace of Kitty Grey by Mary Hooper

Thrilling YA Historical: my heart was breaking for Kitty several times! 

Chronicling the fall from grace of a Regency dairymaid, this is a brilliant read. I always love a well-researched historical novel and you can absolutely rely on Mary Hooper to give you that. Here, her narrator is the eponymous Kitty Grey, dairymaid in a large Devonshire country house.

The narration is first person and past tense, showing us Kitty’s lively and charming voice and giving us access to her thoughts, hopes and fears. She is young and naive, hardworking and reliable. She’s a good and conscientious dairymaid who cares deeply for her cows and takes pride in her work. She worries so much about getting things right and not being thought badly of, and it’s soon clear why, when we see how easily a working-class girl can come to harm. Her naivety leads her to trust where perhaps she shouldn’t and there are several points where we can see she’s about to come a cropper, but it doesn’t occur to her.

Although the title and blurb give us cues that bad things are in store for Kitty, it’s not always clear exactly what those are going to be, and there were certainly several twists that I couldn’t have predicted, although often there was a generally ominous feeling, thanks to Mary Hooper’s skilful ratcheting-up of the tension.

This is definitely a book to savour, and there were points where it was possible just to luxuriate in the period detail, while at other times, I was reading furiously to see what poor Kitty was going to face next or how she would ever get out of the mess she was in. It would definitely serve as a real eye opener for many readers on the period. I found it interesting that the main themes were around contrasts: rich and poor, country and city, good and evil.

Overall, this is a highly enjoyable read with emotional depth and plenty of historical interest. There is a fabulous section giving historical context and information at the end, which will be much more meaningful to teen readers after they’ve enjoyed the story and seen this history brought to life.

From the book description:

Kitty is living a happy, carefree life as a dairymaid in the countryside. The grand family she is employed by looks after her well, and she loves her trade, caring for the gentle cows and working in the cool, calm dairy. And then, of course, there is Will, the river man who she thinks is very fond of her, and indeed she is of him. Surely he will ask her to marry him soon?

Then one day disaster strikes: Will disappears. Kitty is first worried and then furious. She fears that Will has only been leading her on all this time, and has now gone to London to make his fortune, forgetting about her completely. So when Kitty is asked to go to London to pick up a copy of Pride and Prejudice, the latest novel by the very fashionable Jane Austen, Kitty leaps at the chance to track down Will. But Kitty has no idea how vast London is, and how careful she must be. It is barely a moment before eagle-eyed pickpockets have spotted the country-born-and-bred Kitty and relieved her of her money and belongings. Dauntingly fast, she has lost her only means of returning home and must face the terrifying prospect of stealing in order to survive – and of being named a thief . . .

Publishing 9 May by Bloomsbury Children’s
Find more info about Mary Hooper’s historical novels on her website
My grateful thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy via Netgalley

What makes a great historical novel – my views

When I read historical fiction, there are two key things I’m after. I want to learn something as I read (although like any reader, I resent being lectured to when I’m trying to read for pleasure); I also want to be carried away in a good story (just as with any other book).

I’ve read a couple of good historicals for the YA market recently, and a good (if a little worthy) adult historical too. For YA historicals, you can’t beat Mary Hoffman, Mary Hooper and Michelle Lovric.

[does your name have to begin with M to write YA historical fiction? 🙂 Oh wait, I also love Katherine Roberts’,  Katherine Langrish’s and Gillian Philips’ historical fantasies and Catherine Lawrence’s Western Mysteries so the answer is no, it doesn’t. There are just many M-names in the field – not to mention a disproportionate number of Catherine/Katherines.]

Finally, last week, I read Mary Hoffman’s Troubadour, which I’d won in a giveaway on the wonderful History Girls blog, er, quite some time ago. (If you’re at all interested in historical fiction – for adults, kids or teens – you should definitely visit the History Girls, by the way). I loved it, and was happy to discover that it featured the Cathars, which I’d learnt something about from Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth cycle. It was such a joy to find some familiar names and ideas! And, of course, the writing was superb and I was fully engrossed in the story, even while dipping out occasionally to think about the history in a geeky way.

After that, I read Mary Hooper’s latest, The Disgrace of Kitty Grey (out next week! proper review on Monday!), which is set in the English Regency period and also taught me a lot. It’s not a period I know a lot about, or have read many books from. I’m not an Austen fan, I’m afraid (please don’t hate me – society and manners just aren’t my thing).

Both of these lovely books (and, in fact, all of those I’ve read by the three mistresses of historical writing named above) feature historical notes, explaining where history and fiction converge and part company, and contextualising the stories beautifully. I always look forward to reading these, and have been saddened several times when reading a historical novel (usually written for adults) which has no such notes. That last little bit of reading, where the writer situates their story precisely in the past for you, pointing out the snippets of information that they’d embedded in the narrative, is part of the overall experience to the point where not getting it feels a bit like being short-changed.

Oddly enough, that’s not the case with novels which are set in the past (and therefore historical, technically) but also belong to another genre. And of course, if it’s High Fantasy or Steampunk, set in a vaguely historical but not actually real time frame, then that’s different again. Interestingly, with those blended or hyphenated genres, I do still really enjoy any details which feel (or which I know to be) historically accurate and genuine, but I just don’t have those same expectations of being given all the facts at the end. Hmm.

Review: The Diamond Thief by Sharon Gosling

Fabulous steampunk mystery adventure for 9+ 

Amazing contraptions, an intriguing mystery, Victorian London, the circus, a hint of romance between a detective and a cat burglar – this book combines so many elements brilliantly. The result is a riproaring adventure that will appeal to a wide range of readers in (and above) the target age range. I’ve already had to bat my 14 yr old away so that I could read it in time for this review!

Remy is a circus performer. She is a skilled acrobat, working on the trapeze and also as a jewel thief. Fiercely independent, she seems to be an orphan, but does have close relationships with some of the other circus workers. I love her pride in her work and her stubbornness, as well as her admirable loyalty to her beloved Claudette and Amelie. She is clearly beholden to the circus owner, Gustave, who sends her on a mission to steal a precious diamond on display in the Tower of London – and here the adventure begins.

Thaddeus is a young detective. Clearly from a lower class background, he is not always taken seriously as a detective due to this and his age. Nonetheless, he is a very serious young man with a strong sense of morality and a desire to do the right thing. As the blurb tells us, he finds himself implicated in the theft of the diamond and sets out to find Remy and clear his name. The speed with which his colleagues turn against him and believe him to have broken the law is shocking and ensures that our sympathies lie with him.

Sharon Gosling skilfully plays with our sympathies, making sure that we cannot possibly ‘take sides’ between Remy and Thaddeus. We see the best aspects of both of them, and (at least for the first half of the book) understand each far better than the other can. Characterisation is definitely a strength of this book. There isn’t space here to delineate each of the fascinating supporting roles here, but trust me, you’ll also love the Professor, and young J and the noble Desai.

Another strength is the setting. We get to see a range of Victorian London which is relatively unusual – often books are confined to a particular social milieu – as we follow Remy to the showing of the diamonds in the Tower, as well as getting views of London’s poorer aspects. The circus and the creepy below-London network are also sharply drawn and younger readers will have no problem keeping up with the scene changes due to the detailed (but not excessive) description.

And finally, the plot is strong too – pacey but not confusing for the target audience; twisty enough to reward reading; and satisfying in the end.

Overall, I’d absolutely recommend this. With its dual protagonists, its blend of mystery, adventure and character development, it’s definitely a book that will be enjoyed by readers of either gender and fans of many genres.

From the back cover:

And there she was. A girl who seemed to fly without wings, as perfectly as a bird. Even the thought of  it made his heart freeze. The memory of her, plummeting to the ground…

No-one performs on the circus trapeze like 16-year-old Remy Brunel. But Remy also leads another life, prowling through the backstreets of Victorian London as a jewel thief. Forced by the evil circus owner Gustave to attempt the theft of one of the world s most valuable diamonds, she uncovers a world of treachery and fiendish plots.

Meanwhile, young detective Thaddeus Rec is determined to find the jewel and clear his name. Will Thaddeus manage to rescue the jewel? Or is it really Remy that he needs to save?

Published 14 February 2013 by Curious Fox
Find out more at the publisher’s website
My grateful thanks to the publisher and @GeorgiaLawePR for providing me with a review copy.