Wednesday, 8 July 2015

A TIME FOR TREASON: the Gunpowder Plot by ANN TURNBULL. Reviewed by Adèle Geras

As ever when I'm reviewing, I have to start with full disclosure. Ann Turnbull is a friend of mine and moreover we have both contributed books to the Historical House series published by Usborne.

As well as being my friend, though, Ann is undoubtedly one of the very best historical novelists around and her books should be much better known and much more admired. She is one of those writers who is under publicised and under appreciated and there are a lot of them about. Anything I can do to highlight work by such writers, I will do and if I'm perceived as biased, then so be it. I urge anyone to try books like  NO SHAME, NO FEAR and ALICE IN LOVE AND WAR  and  you will, I'm sure, agree with me and start spreading the word about Ann's novels. 

A TIME FOR TREASON  is for much younger readers than the titles mentioned above which are YA and would be suitable for adults too. The National Archives series is a clever initiative which aims to introduce readers to the main 'stories' in the history of our country. Ann has already written two titles (A CROSS ON THE DOOR: about the Plague and A CITY IN FLAMES: about the Great Fire of London) in the series and this one is about the plot by Guy Fawkes and his cronies to blow up the Houses of Parliament.

So far, so familiar. What Turnbull does most adroitly is bring a very complicated story of religious fervour, discrimination, turbulence and violence into a scope that an eight- year -old will understand. She does this by telling the tale through the eyes of a young girl, Eliza and her cousin Lucy who comes to visit London during these dangerous times. Lucy has a taste for intrigue of all kinds and she draws Eliza into exploring sinister goings - on in a neighbouring house. The historical detail is there, but gently and delicately sketched in, so that the young reader is not burdened by dates and accounts of conflicts in the past, but drawn into a tale of day- to -day adventure which culminates in the arrest of Guy Fawkes.

A cat plays a major part in the action, and animals are always a good way to hook very young readers into the plot. The relationship between Eliza and Lucy is both touching and humorous and enlivened by letters and inner thoughts as well as dialogue. The book is very short and easy to read but within those limits, Turnbull's prose is lucid and in period without being olde-worlde in an off-putting way. This is how the book begins and it's a master class in how to convey a lot of information elegantly and in very few words: 

"'Nothing ever happens in London,' sighed Eliza.
She put down her needlework and looked out of the window at the wet, wind-shaken garden, where yellow leaves were swirling.
'You're missing your cousin, aren't you?' her governess, Miss Perks said. She frowned at Eliza's crossed threads. 'Unpick that and do it again.'" 

I do urge  teachers to buy a copy of this and its companion books by Turnbull in the National Archives series for their classroom bookshelf. Reading historical fiction is the best possible way to enthuse pupils about the past and you can't do better than stocking up with Ann Turnbull novels.

published in pbk by A&C Black (£4.99)
ISBN: 9781472908476


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