Mystery and folklore in a theatrical setting for readers of 10+This novel snagged my attention quickly and kept me entranced. It's spot on for the older child/younger teen reader and offers them a thrilling story, with enough challenge in the structure to keep them interested without turning them off, and brilliant characters to engage with.
Using a dual narrative to present the weird and creepy hagwitch lore in two separate timeframes, the structure has plenty of interest of its own. With just the right amount of danger and creepiness for the target age group, the novel also explores identity and being an outsider in a gentle and subtle way. I loved both Lally and Flea, each slightly awkward in their own ways. Both are trying to figure out where they belong, while also battling with the knowledge that something isn't right and the adults around them need their help to first notice and then solve the problem. Lally, living on a canal boat in an unconventional family, is modern and yet isolated - she doesn't go to school, have friends her own age or use the internet. Flea, a sixteenth-century apprentice is a country boy in London, often out of place and somewhat naive.
The settings are fabulous. London is a well-used setting, but offering a sixteenth century theatre-based setting to contrast with a contemporary timeline featuring a canal barge running a marionette theatre made it fresh and exciting. I'm sure many child readers would recognise some of the details about sixteenth century theatre from learning about Shakespeare (who does get a mention) and the Tudors, and that this would enhance their enjoyment. The puppet barge (based apparently on a real Puppet Theatre Barge) gives a quirky twist to the contemporary plotline.
The core mystery of the hagwitch, drawing on folklore around the hawthorn and bird lore (crows and jackdaws especially), is inventive and enticing. The story as a whole feels highly original and exciting, skilfully weaving folklore elements into both a historical and a contemporary plot.
Overall, I would definitely recommend this for many types of reader, successfully combining historical, fantasy and contemporary elements as this novel does.
From the publisher's website:Gothic thriller for 10+ by Irish author Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick. Celtic legend, a malevolent faery queen and the dark underbelly of the theatreworld come to life as two stories of 16th-century London and the modern day interweave in this gripping tale full of dark secrets and magic.
16th-century London, Flea Nettleworth, apprentice to a playwright, watches as his struggling master's fortunes turn, and all of a sudden London is in his thrall. But soon Flea's master can no longer tell where the imagined world ends and the real one begins. Could the arrival of a mysterious Faery Elder trunk hold the answer?
Modern day, Lally lives on a barge, roaming the canalways and performing shows with her puppeteer father. Then, after Lally's father pulls an ancient piece of wood from the canal and fashions it into a puppet, his success seems unstoppable. As her father's obsession with his puppet grows and his plays become darker, Lally begins to wonder if there is something rather sinister, dangerous even, about the wooden doll.