A very unusual pursuit by Catherine Jinks. (City of orphans; book 1). Published by Allen & Unwin, 2013. 360 pages. Available in NZ bookstores now: rrp $18.99
‘A bogle’s a bogle. I don’t care what it looks like, long as I can kill it.’
From the publisher:
Monsters have been bothering Londoners for centuries, and the only solution is to call in the experts. Alfred Bunce, the bogler, has a ten-year-old apprentice, Birdie McAdam. With her beautiful voice and dainty appearance, Birdie is the bait that draws bogles from their lairs so that Alfred can kill them. Then one life-changing day, Alfred and Birdie are approached by two very different women. Sarah Pickles runs a local gang of young pickpockets, three of whom have disappeared in unsettling circumstances. Edith Eames is an educated lady who’s studying the mythical beasts of English folklore. Birdie soon realises that her very livelihood is under threat, as Miss Eames tries to persuade Alfred that there must be a more ‘scientific’ way of killing bogles. But only with Miss Eames’s help, can Birdie save her master, defeat Sarah Pickles, and defeat an altogether nastier villain, the treacherous Doctor Morton, and vanquish a terrifying and deadly bogle. Catherine Jinks, one of Australia’s most inventive writers, has created a fast-paced and enthralling adventure story with edge-of-your-seat excitement and chills.
What do I think about this book?
I absolutely love this cover…. it is a really great introduction to the mood of this story. From the very first page of this book I was plunged headfirst into the dark, dank and dangerous world that was Victorian London. The children of London’s poor, often orphans, had to work at a very young age and tended to be employed in very dangerous occupations – sweeping chimneys and cleaning sewers. Sometimes children were illegally ’employed’ by Fagan type characters called “gangers” running gangs of urchins to pick the pockets of unsuspecting passersby and to steal from shops, stalls and houses. Add some very scary ‘bogles” (monsters or goblins or the bogeymen that hide in chimneys and sewers) to their already dangerous lives, and working children would be terrified.
The language and writing is superb – I love the way the author presents a throughly convincing and authentic feeling Victorian environment while at the same time weaving a very believable fantasy. At first I was a little worried that some of my young readers would be put off by the dialogue which gives this story a real Dickensian tone, but once immersed in the story the language really adds to the depth of the plot. The reader is aided by a glossary of terms at the end of the book, but even without using this the reader is carried along with the contextual clues in the text.
…from chapter 5…(Miss Eames is showing Alfred and Birdie pictures of water monsters known as Grindylows, Jenny Greenteeth, or Peg Powler…)
She thrust the book under Alfred’s nose, so sharply that he recoiled. When Birdie rushed to join him, she saw that the pages had fallen open at a picture of a creature – half hag, half troll – with long, tangled hair and a ragged cloak on it’s back.
“‘That don’t look like no bogle I ever saw,’ Birdie commented, cocking her head to one side.
‘It is perhaps drawn from a verbal description,’ Miss Eames said delicately, ‘and not from life.’
‘A bogle’s a bogle.’ Alfred’s tone was gruff. ‘I don’t care what it looks like, long as I can kill it.’
‘Them sewer pipes is thick with bogles,’ Birdie added. ‘Ain’t that right, Mr Bunce?’ To Miss Eames she remarked, ‘It’s very likely me own Ma died on account of a bogle. She were a tosher, see, but left me in a drain one day, and no one’s seen her since.’
‘But how dreadful!’ Miss Eames looked quite shocked….
If I use the glossary I learn that a Tosher is a sewer scavenger, but I could have easily read on without checking this and I suspect many children reading would be too wrapped up in the story to stop! The story is full of characters with unusual occupations and unusual names, here are a few: cadger, caffler, coal whipper, cracksman, griddler, hurrier, muck snipe and slavvy.
The characters are richly and vividly drawn. Alfred Bunce is rough but genuinely fond of Birdie, ensuring her support and loyalty later on in the story. Birdie is small and looks delicate with the face and voice of an angel, but is feisty, determined and brave. Miss Eames is rather proper and true to her class, her fascination with and belief in mystical creatures was common during the Victorian era, and she is motivated by kindness. The villains – Sarah Pickles and Doctor Morton are all too believable. The story is as much about Alfred and Jem (Birdie’s male friend), as it is about Birdie.
This historical fantasy will be a great read for children aged 9-12 who enjoyed Constable & Toop by Gareth P. Jones or Fire spell (Splendors and Glooms) by Laura Amy Schlitz, and I think my students will really enjoy this book. Boys who don’t tend to read stories where the main character is a girl will miss out on a thrilling adventure with great suspense.
I will be ordering a copy of this for our library. The copy I read was an advance review copy supplied by the publisher (thank you Allen & Unwin!). This is the first book in a planned trilogy (the second book is due to be published July 2013 with the final installment due early 2014.) I am really looking forward to the next exciting installment in this trilogy!
Link to author website: http://www.catherinejinks.com
Link to publisher website: http://www.allenandunwin.com