Rogues’ Gold

Written by John Pilkington
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley Hal McNulty

1590s. Twelve-year-old Ben Button, an apprentice actor, is with the acting company Lord Bonner’s Men on their summer tour. Their first stop is Bowford Manor, home of the wealthy Sir James Howard. They are warmly welcomed by their host and the performance goes well, but then disaster strikes. A jewel-encrusted gold plate goes missing and one of the actors, Solomon Tree, is accused of theft.

Sir James’s daughter Sarah offers to help. She suspects her unpleasant step-mother and step-uncle, Sir Ralph Gosson, may be behind it. Her tutor, Henry Godfrey, tells them that the plate once belonged to the recently executed Mary, Queen of Scots. It is rumoured to have the names of her supporters engraved on it, and he thinks Sir Ralph may be one of them. Ben and Sarah must work fast if they are to recover the plate, unmask the traitors, and rescue Solomon.

This is an action-packed adventure story, and the author cleverly keeps raising the stakes to keep his readers guessing. There are some nice glimpses into life in a great Elizabethan country house as well as into the world of an Elizabethan acting troupe.

Unfortunately, the misuse of some of the titles rather destroyed my suspension of disbelief. Sir James’s wife and daughter would be Lady Howard and Mistress Sarah, not Lady Anne and Lady Sarah (which would mean that they were daughters of a duke, marquess or earl). The scholarly tutor would be Master Godfrey, not Henry Godfrey and he would certainly never be referred to as ‘Henry’ as Sarah casually does. (The young Princess Elizabeth’s tutor, Roger Ascham, was called Master Ascham.) It’s not difficult to get right: Debrett’s Correct Form will tell you.

For boys of 10 and up, though girls will enjoy it, too.

Elizabeth Hawksley


John Pilkington is an exciting and adventurous writer. He has a good use of similes such as ‘he squirmed like a rabbit’. I find that he uses too few adjectives, but creates a vivid image of the story in your head. I like the idea that Solomon, a friend of the main character, Ben Button, is accused of theft because usually stories always make the baddies get sent to prison.
Rogue’s Gold is a fantastically exciting book featuring many fist-clenching moments, such as when Ben’s friend gets sent to prison. Even though I thoroughly enjoyed the book, I thought it could be a bit longer and more complicated because it was very straightforward, it didn’t contain many things happening at the same time. The author is clearly an excellent writer but needs to make his sentences a bit more easily understandable. Sometimes I just skipped a few sentences because it was too hard to understand what he was trying to say.

Hal McNulty