England, South Coast, post 1815. Twelve-year-old Reuben Hibberd knows that a shipwreck means good pickings. But there is one rule the superstitious fisher-folk all follow: the sea gives them the pickings and, in return, they allow the sea to keep those ship-wrecked. They don’t rescue drowning sailors. When Reuben saves Pin, a stowaway aboard the wrecked ship, the Hibberds refuse to take him in lest he brings them bad luck. Pin is soaked, half-starved, cold and alone in the world. How can he persuade the Hibberds to trust him?
Fishing is chancy, and the villagers bridge the gap with smuggling. During the Napoleonic Wars it was a profitable business, but now coastguard Lieutenant Cade is determined to end it and offers a reward for information. It’s not only smuggling that concerns him. There is a traitor amongst the villagers who is sending messages to France, someone who is determined to bring a revolution along the French model to England. Reuben, too, realizes that someone is betraying them and suspicion falls on first Pin, and then on Reuben himself. It is a race to unmask the traitor before he kills again…
This fast-paced book is a gripping mix of danger, suspense and deceit. The author doesn’t romanticize the smugglers’ lives. The starvation they face if the mackerel fail is ever present – the opening scene has Reuben scaling the chalk cliffs in search of seabirds to eat. The Hibberds’ cottage, built just above the tide-line, will soon collapse into the sea. It’s a desperate life and the temptation to take Cade’s reward is very real. This was how the poor lived in the early 19th century and Christopher Russell doesn’t pull his punches.
I thought it was terrific. Aimed at boys of 9+ but girls who enjoy action-packed adventure will enjoy it, too.
– Elizabeth Hawksley
Smugglers is a very enjoyable book, but I did not like the front cover. It was a bit too babyish and had too much going on. If I was looking for a book and I saw that cover, I don’t think I would pick it up or read the blurb. But if I knew what the story was inside it I would most certainly buy it.
The story had an excellent plot. It was very exciting and interesting. The characters and setting were very good, too, and I liked the way everyone seemed to have jobs, even the two main characters, who are children, had jobs. I also like the way Christopher Russell writes because he describes things so you get a very good picture in your head.
Altogether, I think Christopher Russell is a brilliant writer.
– Hal McNulty (aged 9)