Day: May 18, 2022

by Sonya Hartnett

I read another book off my eleven-year-old’s library stack. And this one was really good. Now I’m going to look for all other books my library might have by this author. I love her way with words, and the characters are so well drawn. The style and wording makes me think of both Frances Hodgson Burnett and Helen Griffiths- a rich setting, people who are both kindly and cruel, sharpness in the turn of phrase and keen observation of children’s natures.

It’s set during both WWII and much further back in history- a story is told within this story, and eventually you see how they interconnect (though the ending was a bit vague). Two siblings, Jeremy and Cecily, are sent with their mother away from the dangers of London to stay in the countryside with an uncle, who has a grand old house. Another child evacuee joins them, due to Cecily’s whim to help out, her desire for a playmate and, to be honest- to have someone she can boss around. (Only it doesn’t work out that way!) Cecily is not the smartest child, and not always the nicest, either. But she felt so real to me. She and May wander the grounds, while Jeremy frets about not being allowed to go fight, or at least do something for the war effort. On the edges of the estate in the forest, the children discover a ruined castle. And two boys hiding there. At first they think the boys are also evacuees from the city, run away from their host family perhaps. But their manner is odd, their clothing too fine and out of style . . . May is the one who realizes who they might be, when the uncle tells them about two princes who were shut up in a tower four hundred years ago and never seen again . . . a piece of history I had heard before, but never quite with this slant. I wasn’t expecting a ghost story- but by the time the book got that far, I was too interested in the characters to leave it be. Cecily struggles to face difficulties and hardships, Jeremy fights with his mother and runs away, the boys in the ruined castle are sometimes there and sometimes not, fading and fretful. There are discussions and debates about war- the morality of killing an enemy, the wastefulness of lives, suffering and destruction. A lot about power. How power corrupts, how powerless the children feel in the throes of larger events and especially, told more subtly through the actions of the children themselves, how power can only be held over someone who allows you to. Sometimes it gets a bit dark for a children’s story. Although troublesome and sad in parts, with children who act unpleasantly, it was beautifully told. The ambiguous ending puzzles rather than annoys me. I’m glad to have read it.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5
266 pages, 2012

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All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it

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