Hello, friends. A fortnight ago, I blogged about three YA/children’s novels I recently read and loved. This week, I want to highlight three more.
What if Mary Shelley and Ada Lovelace had been children together, and friends? What if they’d solved crimes assisted by their tutor, “Peebs” Shelley, with occasional appearances by the young bookworm Charles Dickens? This is the premise for Jordan Stratford’s the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency series. Sticklers for historical precision, beware: Stratford very deliberately (and thoughtfully) plays with historical timelines (and rescues, for no particular reason except that of compassion, little Allegra Byron from her neglect and early death in an Italian convent). But he’s faithful to the spirit of the age, his prose is lively yet restrained, The Case of the Girl in Grey crackles with energy, and as the title suggests, it’s an homage to Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White. I love it.
Before I started Worlds of Ink and Shadow, I was verrrrrry leery of the idea of a fantasy based on the Brontë siblings’ juvenilia. (I’ve always been appalled by Branwell’s profligacy in light of his sisters’ privations, and worried that Anne was maybe too much of an enigma to understand.) I am so delighted to report that Lena Coakley has found an absolutely marvellous, fingertip-tingling route into the Brontës’ joint imaginary world. The sibling relationships between the four are fierce and moving; they feel absolutely true. And the points at which the fantasy is grafted onto historical fact are so careful and respectful, while being also quite unexpected. There’s also affectionate humour, here – not something one expects from the Brontës’ world, but which lightens and broadens the novel in subtle and crucial ways. Worlds of Ink and Shadow is astonishing in the way it makes the already vivid Brontë siblings feel even more real.
Oh, I felt a deep stab of panic when I first picked up The Emperor of Any Place. I just happen to be writing a novel set in Southeast Asia during the Second World War and was horrified to realize that Tim Wynne-Jones has just published one. (I didn’t even have the brief, petty consolation of hoping it would be a bad novel. I’ve read enough TWJ to know that’s not going to happen! Anyway, all is well: The Emperor of Any Place is utterly different from the novel I’m writing and I know there is space enough for both books to co-exist.) And I’m so very glad, because The Emperor of Any Place is wonderful. It’s set in present-day suburban Toronto (“Any Place”) and includes substantial excerpts from a diary kept in 1945 by a Japanese soldier marooned on a Pacific island. It’s funny and extremely well-observed (“a loaf of dirty-blond hair”) and also terrifying and deeply moving. It’s grounded in so many specific, heavy-realist details and yet has a minor fantasy element that feels entirely convincing and necessary. I have a minor quibble about teenaged behaviour (would 17yos go to McDonald’s on a first date, and would they hold hands across the table before they’ve decided whether they really like each other?) but apart from that, I’ve been very enjoyably haunted by this unusual ghost story.