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reviews New talent Dangerous Remedy HHHH


Kat Dunn, Zephyr, 430pp, 9781789543643, £12.99 hbk


France, during the revolution is a very dangerous place and fortunes can change in the blinking of an eye. A small group of young people, led by a girl named Camille have set themselves the task of rescuing people


from the guillotine.They


are a mixed bag of ex-aristocrats, deserters and outcasts, who no longer believe in the revolution or in the system that it has replaced. When they were asked to rescue a young girl from the Conciergerie, the same prison that had housed Marie Antoinette, they assumed it would be difficult but possible. What they discovered was a young girl wearing an iron mask and covered from head to foot with fabric or leather; after achieving their aim of rescuing her they discover the strange secret that she holds. The girl, Olympe, is full of electrical energy which could prove to be a danger to anyone that she comes in to contact with. However some people have realized that she could be used as a weapon and have been experimenting to try and discover whether her powers could be passed to others. Suddenly the band of friends find themselves trying to protect this girl from both the French and English governments, both of whom wish to exploit her potential.


But who can they trust


and what are the consequences of choosing the wrong friends? This is a fascinating and exciting


Eight Pieces of Silva HHHHH


Patrice Lawrence, Hodder Children’s Books, 400pp, 978-1444954746, £7.99 pbk


Patrice Lawrence has been extraordinarily busy over this last year, creating a shelf of genre-crossing books…but I have to admit that this was the one I was most impatient for. From Orangeboy (2016) to Indigo Donut (2017) to Rose, Interrupted (2019), it is Lawrence’s YA canon which I keep an especially keen eye on. With each new title, the plots are ever more cartographic in their detail and in the overlaying of narratives. Meantime, the key characters’ inner lives tread ever closer to the reader, slowly cutting through and away to the core. It is very hard to shake off these wonderfully drawn, pulsing characters once the last page has been turned.


Eight Pieces of Silva keeps


Lawrence at the top of her game. It is first and foremost an expertly crafted


14+ Secondary/Adult The Great Godden


HHHHH


Meg Rosoff, Bloomsbury, 256pp, 9781526618511, £12.99 hbk


A gift for apparently effortless prose usually betokens an author working long hours perfecting their Meg Rosoff, whose


latest


craft. novel


further cements her place as a truly outstanding popular


writer, is one


such perfectionist. Already a multiple prize-winner, she has the confidence to write about whatever she pleases, regardless of whether the settings are


currently fashionable. In this


mixture fantasy.


of history and magic/ The author really has


conveyed the difficulties of living at such a time; where even family can no longer be relied on and new alliances can be fraught with danger. The main characters are dealing with family pressures, friendship and relationships which are unusual for the time; Camille and her lover Adalaide being a prime example. There is prejudice against those who are different, whether that is physically or who have different points of view. real


The book brings a feel of the period and there


are echoes of titles such as ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’, ‘The Red Necklace’ and even ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’. Altogether this is an exciting and challenging read for those who love history, with a touch of magic. MP


mystery at the centre of which is the disappearance of Becks’ older sister, Silva. The plot rumbles and churns and then, in true Lawrence style, picks up a perfectly exhausting pace which makes you long for a resolution- and, finally, a good night’s sleep. Like all good mysteries, there are: clues along the way (eight, to be precise)- including an Okoye cosplay wig…; a somewhat reluctant, flawed and –


hugely 16-year-old


endearing ‘detective’ Becks;


unreliable


and equivocating characters; an urban landscape of shifting moods (Lawrence’s London always feels like family to me); there is even, I would argue, a flipped, noir-esque, femme fatale in Logan the Legend… And all of this is shot through with perhaps my favourite Lawrence signature- a weave of popular cultural references with a special bias here for Tolkien, Black Panther, K-pop and Janelle Monáe. A compelling, moreish thriller- (and if you know a better- drawn queer black girl protagonist in UK YA, send her my way). FC


novel she focuses on the wealthy and amiably self-congratulatory Godden family. There is no nod towards any sort of diversity, because it would not have fitted into the plot. Instead, this story could have been written any time in the last fifty years, where teenagers and affectionate parents plus other adults


experience a protracted


summer break by the sea. Characters read plays by Edward Albee and set off to the beach to pick samphire for the family lunch, later to be fortified by glasses of an English Pinot Noir. Relationships are warm, with parental reprimands never amounting to much more than gentle advice on when to say ‘whom’ rather than ‘who’. Describing families who have it all can risk alienating readers in less happy circumstances, but this is not an issue here. Because it is soon evident that the Goddens are blindly heading towards emotional disaster, all recounted in terse first- person by one of the teenagers of the house, whose actual gender is never made clear. Readers are drawn into relationships where sex divorced from feeling, however urgent it seemed at the time, ultimately proves destructive to all concerned.


The villain is a


handsome American teenager stud spending time in Britain – a perfect part for any similarly endowed actor should this fine and engrossing story ever make it to the screen. Ostensibly a Young Adult novel, there is much here for adult readers too.


Rumer


Godden’s The Greengage Summer, now over sixty years old, is still one of


the best ever descriptions of


adolescent first love and eventual betrayal


during one hot summer.


Rosoff could have been thinking of this when choosing the family name and title for this equally compelling novel. NT


The Enigma Game HHHHH


Elizabeth Wein, Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 432pp, 978-1526601650, £7.99 pbk


Returning to characters readers


will know from her previous wartime novels, The Pearl Thief and Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein creates an enthralling new standalone adventure.


Told from the viewpoint of three young them in their people, each of different ways an


outsider, it’s another tour de force from this author, combining thrilling airborne action scenes with a twisty espionage plotline, and providing a unique insight into wartime life and lives. The protagonists and narrators are flight leader Jamie Beaufort- Stuart, herding a squadron of young pilots


through bombing raids and


already, at 22, too familiar with death and loss; Ellen McEwan, a driver for the RAF, concealing the fact that she is a Traveller from friends and colleagues; and Louisa Adair, fifteen years old, the daughter of an English mother and Jamaican father, both now dead, facing prejudice from all sides as she tries to find work and support herself. Other characters, equally well drawn, include Jane, an old lady Louisa is employed to look after and who has her own secrets to hide; and Felix Bauer, a young German pilot, who is determined to deliver an Enigma coding machine to the British secret service. The action takes place in a remote Scottish airbase, its isolation adding to the tension, which in turn is balanced by a sense of the wearing banalities of wartime life – five inches of bathwater only, pretend coffee, shillings for the gas meter.


These in turn contrast


with and highlight the excitement and beauty of night-time flights into Europe, and the terror of dogfights with the Nazis, the Bristol Blenheims of Jamie’s squadron no match for the German Messerschmitts. After a slow-ish start, the drama escalates steadily and the final scenes are extraordinarily gripping and moving. 75 years on since the end of World War II and it’s more


important


than ever that we understand how it affected the


people who lived


through it, what it demanded of them, and how they responded. This is a very fine historical novel, with characters as alive as any you could hope to meet in fiction. AR


Books for Keeps No.243 July 2020 31


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