Friday, May 4, 2012

friday book review: history and ghosts

 Of the books I've read so far this year, this has been my favourite, beating even The Eagle of the Ninth by a whisker.

I absolutely loved it.

I had to read the last twenty or so pages twice, because the first time, I was full-on crying, with actual hiccupy-sobs, not just wet eyes. Until that point I thought it would be a good book for a parent or teacher to read aloud to older kids - but they would have to have hearts of steel.

I will be sketchy with plot details because I can't bear reviewers who give too much detail away.

Cecily ( aged 12) and Jeremy (14) and their mother Heloise evacuate from London during the Second World War, just before the bombing of the city begins. On Cecily's whim, they take in an evacuee, May, who comes with them to stay at the children's uncle's grand manor house, Heron Hall. The uncle, Peregrine, is kind but a bit mysterious. Here's a description of him:

Her host at Heron Hall, was, in appearance, like a wily criminal from an adventure tale. He was tall and lean, and his face was shadowy, and he wore his dark hair long, like a mane, which May had never seen a real-life man do. His eyes, too, were very black, as if only night-time sights were invited into them. There was something mysterious about him, something beyond the fact that he looked like a sly magician... beyond his intolerance of questioning. There was something about him that made you feel he knew more about you than you did. If he'd had a weasel up his sleeve, a knife in his belt, or the ability to change into a jackdaw, none of it would have surprised.

Thick, selfish, spoiled Cecily and quiet, watchful May discover the ruins of an 800 year old castle and there meet two strange boys, who they are assume are runaway evacuees, but then at night, their uncle begins to tell them the story of  The Princes in the Tower and their uncle King Richard  III...

No spoilers from me. You'll have to read it.

The language/writing in this book is perfection - the most beautiful images are evoked by Ms Hartnett: the descriptions of the landscape, the use of royal or medieval motifs to describe the domestic details : toast sits up in the rack like soldiers,the telephone is in a little room like a throne.

The portrait of prickly, angry 14 year old Jeremy is completely heartbreaking. She has captured that age so well ( I should know!)
I liked that the characters are not ( except for May, and Peregrine) particularly likeable.

The dual history themes, of London in the bombing as well as the Princes' story, are compelling and tragic. I think a good, sensitive reader from about 11 upwards would love this book. At work it is in our junior collection, but I think it could equally be in teen reads or adult fiction.  The main characters may be children but the themes of war, power, death, family and grief cross all age groups.

This is a wonderful book and I'm giving it five stars.


  1. Drat you. And drat me for giving in and reading a review that I already knew would be positive in the extreme.

  2. Love this book and love your review. By a strange coincidence, I've been writing a review of this (and some other recently read books)for our work blog. Your review puts mine to shame!

  3. oh feel free to borrow from this... I just want everyone to read the book!

  4. I'm off to reserve it at once. I always trust your book reviews!


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