Thursday, August 5, 2010
Traitor's Gate, written by Avi. Simon & Schuster, 2007. $19.99 ages 10 and up
"The debt your father owes is a very great sum indeed. Three hundred pounds. Many a laborer of maid lives on twenty a year - often far, far less. Unless your father can find a way to pay this Mr. O'Doul during these next few days, his prospects for the future are, shall we say, quite without...hmm...luster."
You do know by now that I like to read books about Victorian England with interest and a sense of foreboding. The conditions are always so bleak. I have also developed a growing interest in mystery stories...which were not always my category of choice (such a thing may, at some future point, lead me to try my hand at science fiction??).
The Traitor's Gate immediately places its readers in the milieu that is Victorian London and its legal system. Punishment is swift and harsh. John's father is a would-be actor, an inveterate gambler and in big trouble! His debts are out of control and he is being sent to debtor's prison until they can be paid. He says he has small debts to many, but does not owe Mr. O'Doul anything close to three hundred pounds! As he faces prison, he asks his son to visit his old aunt and ask for her help. Why won't Aunt Euphemia help her only living relatives? Why does Mr. O'Doul claim that he owes so much? Who is the ragged girl who seems to be wherever John is, and why is she following him?
There are many twists and lots of mystery surrounding this fast-paced Victorian drama. The description of London is graphic and leaves little to the imagination about living conditions of the time. Readers have to pay attention to the clues given, and frustration can build as one lead gives way to another. John is a great character, who moves from being naive and trusting to cautious and questioning, never knowing exactly what part the various people are playing in the intricate plot to capture a traitor. Although he is disillusioned by some of the events as they unfold, we are left with the feeling that we might see more of John and Sary the Sneak. He will long remember her final words to him: 'This girl 'as a 'eart, too!' I would look forward to meeting them again.
In an afterword, Avi explains that some of the events from Charles Dickens' life have been used to craft this story. As well, he uses London as central to the story...almost a character in itself...because of his connection to the glorious city. He is thrilled to have had the opportunity to give it life in his story.