At the Sign of the Sugared Plum

Written by Mary Hooper
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley Rachel Beggs (aged 11)


London, June 1665. Country girl Hannah is thrilled to be coming to live in London with her sister Sarah, who runs a sweetmeats shop in the city. She is longing to see the fashionable ladies and gentlemen and all the sights. Sarah is horrified that Hannah did not get her message to stay away – there have been cases of plague reported. Hannah refuses to go back home; she’s always longed to see London and can’t believe the plague will be a problem.

In this lively story, Mary Hooper gives us all the sights, sounds, and smells of 17th century London life. Hannah’s first-person narrative vividly evokes her excitement, her naïve longing to be ‘fashionable’, her growing friendship with Tom, the apothecary’s apprentice, and her increasingly terrified realization that the plague is creeping ever closer and that death is no respecter of persons. By writing in the first person, Hooper skilfully enables the reader to learn, along with the youthful narrator, how the authorities dealt with the plague and its impact on ordinary people. It also enables her to exploit the tension between Hannah’s 17th-century views – that herbal lozenges ward off the plague, say – and the reader’s realization that many of the preventative measures were either useless or, in the forced killing of all the dogs and cats, positively harmful.

I enjoyed this book. It is well-written, engaging, and historically accurate without being pedantic. The main characters are all vividly drawn and we care about what happens to them. It is a real pleasure to read a book where the characters think and act like 17th century people, rather than being 21st century characters in fancy dress as, alas, is all too often the case. For girls aged 10 plus. Recommended.


This book was a long time line of Hannah’s life events during her stay in London. She came to London to help her sister but found there was a plague there. It was all about the plague and was very sad because towards the middle everybody started catching the plague and dying. I learned a lot about the plague and strangely enough a lot about what people ate and what they wore.

I liked it but it could have had some more action because at some points it wasn’t very interesting – it repeated what it had already said. I think it’s aimed at 10 to 12 year olds and is definitely for girls. I don’t think boys would enjoy it at all because quite a lot of it is about love and it’s not very dramatic.

At the back there are some recipes for confectionery of the 17th century and I am going to try them out.