Tuesday 21 January 2014

Review: The Black Crow Conspiracy by Christopher Edge

It’s 1902. London is looking forward to the new King’s coronation and ignoring the threat of war from across the sea…

Penelope Tredwell, the pen behind bestselling author, Montgomery Flinch, is cursed with writer’s block. She needs a sensational new story or her magazine, The Penny Dreadful, will go under. So when a mysterious letter arrives, confessing to an impossible crime, Penny thinks she has found a plot to enthrall her readers: the theft of the Crown Jewels by the diabolical Black Crow.

Ghostly apparitions, kidnap and treason – this is the stuff of great stories. But what if it’s all true?

If you have not yet discovered the fantastic Penny Dreadful series by Christopher Edge then you are in for one hell of a treat. The Black Crow Conspiracy is the third book featuring main character Penelope Treadwell, a teen girl who inherited and now runs one of London's bestselling magazines, The Penny Dreadful. The magazine became so popular because of the grisly horror stories it prints, stories supposedly written by one Montgomery Flinch, but are in reality all penned by Penelope herself. However, this being the Victorian era, it would not be seemly for a young lady to be writing, let alone publishing, such macabre tales of horror. Penelope therefore employs an actor to be the public face of Montgomery Flinch, allowing her to write in secrecy. 

This is not straight historical fiction -the  first two books, Twelve Minutes to Midnight and Shadows of the Silver Screen, could quite easily be stories within the pages of The Penny Dreadful, with their mix of action, adventure and elements of the supernatural, and this third adventure for Penelope and her friends is no exception to this.

Several years have passed since the events of Shadows of the Silver Screen, and it appears that then good people of London have moved on. Sales of The Penny Dreadful have dropped as people begin to turn to stories of crime and detection, and naturally a certain Arthur Conan Doyle gets a mention. To make matters even worse, Penelope is suffering from severe writer's block, and is struggling to get even a handful of worthy words written, let alone a whole story. 

In an attempt to get over this Penelope comes with the idea of running a competition, whereby members of the public can submit story ideas, in the hope that some of them will be suitable for publication. Naturally, most of them are a load of guff, but one in particular gets Penelope's creative juices flowing, and it is soon in print. Unfortunately for Penny, and even more so for Monty, the story happens to perfectly reflect a dastardly crime that took place weeks before the story was published, and he is carted off my the police under suspicion of stealing the Crown Jewels. So begins an adventure that see Penelope and her friends chasing down a villain who has his eyes on one thing only - the throne of Britain itself.

I loved the first two books in this series, so when I received a copy of The Black Crow Conspiracy from the fab people at Nosy Crow I was both excited, and also a little concerned as to whether writer Christopher Edge would be able to maintain the quality in a third book. My concerns were completely unfounded, and in fact this turned out to be my favourite of the three. Rather cleverly, in my opinion, Christopher Edge has moved his characters and their story on by jumping ahead two years. Victoria has passed away and with Edward on the throne a new era is blooming in Britain. Europe too is changing rapidly, and politics across the continent are becoming increasingly complex, with various nations jostling for superiority. Christopher Edge uses all of these historical events to construct a fast-paced mystery story, with his trademark elements of the supernatural, and a very believable alternate history plot.

This book and its predecessors are perfect for 9+ readers, and they have equal appeal to boys and girls. Penelope is a great protagonist, and anyone who claims that boys do not enjoy stories with a female main character should be shown this book as an example that debunks that myth. In Penelope, Christopher Edge has created a female lead who is both a superb role model for girls, and also a kick-ass heroine who does not need to reply on a male character to save the day for her, despite living in an era when young women were expected to be demure and 'proper', with only a life of being a wife and mother to look forward to.

If you have a child who loves action and adventure stories then this series is well worth putting into their hands. Although there are supernatural elements, there is little in these books that is really scary, but enough to keep them excitedly turning the pages to find out what perils will befall our heroine next. Additionally, the historical aspects of the story may also engender an increased interest in the history of this era.


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