The Executioner’s Daughter
The Executioner’s Daughter follows the watery adventures of Moss and her rascally sidekick, Salter, as they face scary situations while evading a child snatcher and a Riverwitch. Ultimately, they find friendship and purpose to their lives beside the Thames in the reign of Henry VIII.
Pitched as a sort of gothic horror for children with a dash of witchiness, the story is essentially a newly rendered fairy tale, based on real folkloric myths of river spirits, like Peg Powler or Jenny Greenteeth, who were said to snatch children who wandered too close to the water’s edge. This folkloric premise is nicely set up by the fireside telling of the story of the Riverwitch by old Nell. However, apart from this short taste, the first half of the book is relatively ponderous and grim, labouring the role of executioner and his assistant to establish Moss and her father as social outcasts and to give her a reason to run away. Necessarily, as Moss is to be reconciled with her father, he cuts a rather unconvincing ogre figure and as such, in spite of the title, the executioner trope is something of a distraction from the main thrust of the narrative. Rather than catching the imagination with spine-tingling scene-setting, the effect of over-egging this bit of the pudding is a very slow lead-in via grisly, but rather ponderous, horror before turning out to be a deft and exciting fairy tale adventure on another theme altogether.
Details like a frost fair on the frozen river or a Tudor banquet are well drawn. A toilet collapsing off London Bridge and Salter’s fruity oaths are great fun: “Great Harry’s pussin ulcers!” The baddies are scary in their own right. So it is to be hoped that readers of 8 to 12 will persevere.