The International Writers Magazine:Childrens' Fiction
Feather by Kate Pennington
Hodder Childrens Books Pub: November 17th 2005
Hardcover ISBN: 034087872X
Clare Sager review
1739, the streets of London are dark, dirty and rife with pickpockets
and poverty. You might say some things never change. However,
these days, you would not expect to be stopped on the motorway
with the cry of "Stand and deliver" (unless youre
listening to Adam and the Ants at the time).
third novel (Tread Softly and Brief Candle being the other's
under this pseudonym) explores an underworld of pickpockets, highwaymen
and fences amid the lace and livery of the eighteenth century. We follow
the fortunes and woes of Charley Feather, a young, yet nimble, highwayman
with a secret.
Charley, is, in fact, 14-year-old Charlotte, a highwaywoman.
We first encounter our heroine among the crowd gathered to watch the
infamous Dick Turpin hang. Here we witness the swift and severe justice
served upon even the most trivial of criminals. Shortly after this experience
that haunts Charley throughout the novel, events take a sharp dive for
the worst: herself and her posse including their leader, the
dangerous Thomas Wild, fictitious son of the infamous Jonathan Wild,
Thief-Taker General are discovered by the police.
Charley narrowly escapes with one other, the deceitful Claude Delamare,
also known as Frenchy. Little does she know that this Frenchman
will have an irreversible, vital effect upon the rest of her life
What follows is a thrilling adventure of lies, mistrust and humour which
raises questions of identity and tensions between the sexes as our heroine
masquerades as a boy, then reverts to her true, female self and must
face differing behaviour from those around her. These are valuable,
thoughtful issues for the age group this novel would suit (10-14 year
olds). I am also sure that young women reading this would appreciate
the active nature of our heroine she is not passive and is involved
in the plot to decide the fate of not only herself, but of her London.
As Charley herself says "I am Charley Feather, highwayman, and
will bow down to no man!" you should maintain your own identity
and not hand over power of your fate to anyone. Apart from the "highwayman"
bit, thats a great message for the women of tomorrow.
We tread an interesting path between idealised and realistic portrayal
of a highwaymans life. On the one hand Charley longs to return
to the freedom of this lifestyle when she is hiding from her foes and
it does seem fun and grand to swagger as an outlaw, yet one the other
side, we see danger, death and our heroine landing in a pile of cow
dung during a narrow escape.
Pennington crafts life into this period with her vivid conjuring of
place and creation of characters we actually care about. Whats
more, she does this without leaving the reader bogged down in an excess
of historical detail (while a number of historical novels seem as if
the author is merely showing off how much research theyve done).
The characters do not serve the period, rather the period serves as
their backdrop, which is as it should be.
With this historical detail, we see an unsentimental portrayal of the
plight of the poor in this era. It would be a valuable read for those
studying the eighteenth century to give them a feel for the age that
is often lacking in dry textbooks.
Writing with flair, Pennington incorporates thieves cant and her
characters voice without confusing the reader with an excess of
false thees and thous. The are occasions when a change of
tense feels clumsy and thus stands out, but the quality of the rest
of the writing makes this minor slip forgivable.
This is an exciting novel of dangerous men on dark streets playing games
of trust and treachery and one girl trying to stay alive through it
all a thrilling ride you should read!
© Clare Sager November 2005
Making Maths Meaningful by Kate Bush
A Clare Sager review
Clare Sager has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Portsmouth
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