Sunday 25 March 2012

Review: Road To London by Barbara Mitchelhill

Thomas is desperate to join 'the players', he'll do anything to watch them perform, even skip school and risk a caning. But when Thomas's rule breaking gets him in trouble with more than just his school master, he has to flee his home and make his way to London. Here he meets his hero, Shakespeare, and his players. But behind the excitement of the theatres is a grimy world of deception, poison and treason. Will Thomas manage to uncover the plot in time? And will he manage to save Shakespeare from a fate worse than death?

I love reading thrillers set in Tudor and Elizabethan England. It was a time that was ripe with plots, conspiracies and political intrigue as a result of the English Reformation, a time when people were sometimes executed at the merest hint of a treasonous word spoken. It is a period in time that most young people are taught about in British schools, and whilst there are many adult thrillers set in this era, the same cannot be said for children's and YA literature. I was therefore very excited to receive an email from author Barbara Mitchelhill back at the beginning of 2012, giving me more information about her forthcoming book, Road To London, as part of my Coming Up In 2012 feature. Barbara promised action, adventure and intrigue, and her book certainly delivers on all counts.

Road To London tells the story of Thomas Munmore, a boy who lives in Stratford-Upon-Avon, idolises the town's most famous son, William Shakespeare, and dreams of becoming an actor in Shakespeare's company. As a result of a badly failed attempt at poaching to raise some money to run away to London, Thomas finds himself on the run from the local law and his hangman's noose, heading for London but without a penny to his name. Eventually he makes it to London, despite meeting some pretty nasty people along the way, and manages to blag his way into working for the Chamberlain's Men. It is at this point where the plot begins to thicken and Thomas finds himself slap bang in the middle of a plot to murder Queen Elizabeth herself.

The historical aspects of this story are wonderful. Barbara Mitchelhill has a skill for bringing Elizabethan England alive for her readers, and confident young readers will take delight in picturing the setting and inhabitants of a London very different to the one we know today. It is a filthy, cesspit of a city full of overwhelming, nausea-inducing smell and dangerous criminals who would cut your throat in broad daylight just for a few coins.

The story itself moves at a cracking pace, the short chapters and many moments where Thomas and his friend Alice find themselves in great peril, as well as the handful of comedic moments provided my members of the troupe and Alice's common-as-muck mother, will have readers turning the pages rapidly. However, the book is not perfect, as it sadly lacks the twisting, turning, more complex plotting that is apparent in the very best children's books being published these days.

Road To London is a good, entertaining read for history loving 10+ children, and perhaps even younger ones if they are confident readers. It is due to be released on 5th April, and my thanks go to the good people at Andersen Press for sending me a copy.

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