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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Young Fiction

The Silver Blade by Sally Gardner
Publisher: Orion Children’s Books (2009)
ISBN: 978-1-84255-597-2
Nina Aumaitre review

France 1793, blood is running in rivulets down the streets as heads fall severed from bodies like petals of sickle roses. The reign of terror has Paris in its chokehold gripe and the city is panting, in frenzy for justice. So under the slicing cry of the guillotine, mastered by corrupt citizen Robespierre and his sans-culottes’ a young man finally draws the line. He goes by the name of Yann Margoza and through his veins chimes the mystical blood of gypsies.

Actor by day, hero by night, he snatches innocents from under the new cut throat regime. But as if it wasn’t hard enough it seems that the devil himself has come to pull on the threads of life and death, and under the city lays more mischief, which will also come into play, leading this story far beyond the French revolution as we know it. This is Sally Gardener’s new book ‘The Silver Blade’.

Before going any further I feel I should tell you this, it is not a story recreating the revolution, so don’t get scared off by thinking that it will suddenly turn into one of your history school books (which you so long to escape from). Sally Gardner may have picked this historical field for her story to play out on, but she only uses the terrain as a base. Before you know it you will find yourself plunged into the dark world of catacombs and moving corpses. And as the story progresses on antagonist characters rears up, and it will soon be clear to you that the thirst for blood hides behind many faces. Some scared and torn, others misleadingly angelic, and would it be giving too much away to add: some all but human?

The story is pushed forward by butter knife action more than actual sword play, but action none the less. Action, Adventure and the final touch romance, because what would a hero do if he had no maiden to keep his heart safe during battle? By that I mean that you will not be spared the torment of a forbidden love and all its usual complications. But whilst there might be some wishy-washy romance, death will takes to the dance floor more often.

As for language let’s not forget that all this is set in France! So to keep the accent on the E’s a few expressions have made their way into the dialogue ‘mort bleu!!’ and ‘rosbif’. So if you like to keep the full flavour of a text I would suggest you look them up, as there are no helpful translations at the bottom of the page. But fear not, before you feel too home sick, a regular ship will be sailing to England, or more exactly to London, where the writer opens our eyes to the English’s part in the French revolution.

For those of you that like taking in imagery Sally Gardner enchants some of her scenes with meaningful metaphors and her language stays constant and eloquent all the way through. Here’s a taste of the catacombs:
‘This darkness would never remember the light of a lantern; it would be nothing more than a pinprick in the liquid heart of eternal nigh.’

Saying this, I would recommend this book to a pre-teen audience (10+). Because of its content and the lay out, both fashioned to make the book an easy read. Every chapter leads you in with a paragraph of bold blue font and a curly artistic header. Though I would not advise anyone who is passionate about French history, in particular the revolution to read this book. As I have said above the backdrop of the revolution is only a convenient setting in which humanity loses its footing.

© Nina Aumaitre November 2009
Nina is studying Creative Writing at the University of Portsmouth

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