Road to London
1598. Thirteen-year-old Thomas Munmore, a cobbler’s son living in Stratford-upon-Avon, longs to be an actor and work with his idol, William Shakespeare. He even puts up with a beating when he plays truant from school to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
When he’s forced to flee the town after being caught poaching, he makes for London with a friend, Alice. But things do not work out as planned. Far from being a city whose streets are paved with gold, as Thomas believes, Elizabethan London is dirty and dangerous and full of cheats, liars and worse. Thomas manages to get work with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men theatre company, and re-meets Shakespeare, but then he and Alice find themselves caught up in a treasonous plot to kill the queen. Will anyone believe them? And can they unmask the villain in time?
Road to London was recommended for the Carnegie Medal and short-listed for the Young Quills Award, and one can understand why. It doesn’t pull its punches about the realities of living in Elizabethan London. It’s a filthy, smelly, and dangerous place where rotting heads of traitors are displayed on London Bridge. There are few provisions to help the poor or ill; justice is skewed in favour of the rich, and starvation is an everyday reality. Nobody cares whether Thomas or Alice live or die and the feeling of living in an anarchic society with all the uncertainty that that engenders is very real.
I enjoyed the glimpse into everyday life in the theatre. It, too, is a dangerous place, dependent on the good-will of wealthy patrons – who themselves may be jockeying for position at court, or even seeking to harm the queen. Thomas gradually realizes that he’s living on a knife-edge – and he doesn’t know the rules.
Recommended for children of 11 plus.