The blurb says this is a ‘thrilling story of sorcery and mystery laced with macabre horror and historical detail’ – I couldn’t have put it better myself, although it’s heavy on the magic and horror, and much lighter on the history.
Twelve-year-old Jem Green is the son of the Duchess of Bellingdon’s widowed maidservant – or so he thinks, although his real parentage is easy to guess. He lives a miserable life toiling in the kitchens, where he’s regularly beaten and mistreated by some of the other servants (I did wonder why Jem’s mother couldn’t do more to help him!). When a supposedly mute black boy, Tolly, and a young witch, Ann, befriend him, he is therefore very happy, even though he is a bit frightened at first by the strange things they can do. However, his new friends are bound to a cruel and sinister master, Count Cazalon, who, unbeknown to Jem, needs him for an important magical rite.
The story is set during the time leading up to the Great Fire of London and involves King Charles II and a mysterious plot to burn the whole city to the ground. I enjoyed it very much and found it well-written and exciting. For anyone wanting to read a historical novel, the background, speech, clothing and so on are all accurately described so you feel you are in the 17th century. But all the sorcery and magic soon takes centre stage, so I would class this more as a fantasy adventure story where the history is merely the backdrop.
I’m sure this Gothic tale would appeal to girls and boys of eleven plus alike – although some of them might baulk at the gruesome descriptions in certain passages – and if you want a very different, exciting read, then this book is for you.