The Gunpowder Plot

Written by Akbar Ali (illus.) Ann Turnbull
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

1605. Nine-year-old Eliza Fenton lives in London, near the Houses of Parliament. These are dangerous times. Government spies are constantly on the look-out for Catholic plots to kill the King. Eliza is worried because her family is secretly Catholic. Although they are loyal subjects of King James, she knows that her family would suffer if they were implicated in a Catholic plot.

She and her cousin Lucy are suspicious of a man they’ve seen sneaking out of a cellar door of a house opposite. He’s supposed to be guarding a stock of fuel of Sir Thomas Percy but he doesn’t look like a workman, he looks and behaves more like a soldier. They are sure he’s hiding something. Eliza and Lucy vow to find out what’s inside the cellar…

I enjoyed this deceptively simple re-telling of the Gunpowder Plot story when, on November 5th, 1605, Guy Fawkes and his accomplices planned to blow up the Houses of Parliament and kill the King. Ann Turnbull manages to convey the difficulties of being a loyal Catholic at a time when the words ‘Catholic’ and ‘traitor’ were often assumed to be practically synonymous; and shows us how proscribed and guarded young girls of good family were; Eliza and Lucy can never go outside unchaperoned, for example. We also learn about the uses of the often extensive cellars; the clothes people wore; the food they ate (I liked the sound of the cinnamon buns!) and how a household was run. And all this within ninety pages.

The events leading up to the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot are excitingly told. Girls of 7+ should enjoy this lively book, engagingly illustrated by Akbar Ali.