I received eARCs of the books from the publisher in exchange for honest reviews. It has not affected my opinions.
Barrington Stoke is the UK’s specialist publisher of books for dyslexia and reluctant readers. It is about to release two standalone historical fiction novels based on different periods and one for YA and one for MG – so naturally combining the two reviews into one post seemed the most natural.
THE BATTLE OF CABLE STREET, by Tanya Landman
Age Range: YA Star rating: 4 stars
THE BATTLE FOR CABLE STREET (Goodreads here) follows Elsie as she grows up in the East End of London in the 1920s and 1930s, as Mosley’s fascists rose in prominence. It’s a story not often told, because it’s easier to teach that antisemitism and racism was only an issue elsewhere, rather than here. However, it did also become more “mainstream” here, an important take for now.
This is told through the eyes of a Jewish child seeing hatred grow and come out of the woodwork around her, see friendships break up due to it. And then she becomes involved in major events – the confrontation at a rally in Olympia in 1934 and then the titular Cable Street battle in 1936, where the people of the East End stood up against the police and the home office trying to force them to allow the fascists to march through an area that had a large Jewish and non-white population.
It is a sobering tale, watching the hatred rise, and feels very pertinent right now, and that sobering feel is made all the more powerful for being told through the eyes of a young girl. The language is so evocative, stark in its simplicity. However, it also ends on a hopeful note.
THE CLOCKWORK QUEEN, by Peter Bunzl
Age Range: MG Star Rating: 4 stars
THE CLOCKWORK QUEEN (Goodreads here) is inspired by the Mechanical Turk, a mechanical chess player that was actually a fake hiding a real player. In this Russian set, MG, Sophie’s father is a chess master, summoned by Catherine the Great to teach her son – but when he fails, she imprisons him. It’s up to Sophie, some chess-playing friends, and a clever mechanical device, to infiltrate the palace and free him.
It was such a delightful story about chess, family, and friendship, particularly friendship in dire circumstances. Not to mention shining a spotlight on invention, ingenuity, and illusion, surrounded by 18th century Russia, both cities and palaces.
The illustrations, by Lisa Visirin, really help set the scene. As you’d expect with a book (novella) this short, the descriptions are pretty sparse, so the illustrations make it much easier to imagine the blocking and layout. They are a combination of full page images capturing a whole scene and smaller ones capturing an object or a close up of Sophie in action. It was a nice mix, and the style was a very clean one, with block grey to add depth and detail into it.
What historical fiction novellas have you read recently?