Step into the past in this perfectly-realised Victorian setting to discover a thrilling mystery about a sinister plot to shape and control the future.
Penelope Tredwell isn’t your average thirteen year old in Victorian London. Since her father’s death, she’s been the owner of The Penny Dreadful magazine and also the secret author of the sensational stories of supernatural terror that have turned the magazine’s fortunes around. Her readers are clamouring to know more of the magazine’s mysterious author so Penny hires an actor to play the infamous Montgomery Flinch. Things, however, take an interesting turn when the author is invited to investigate the strange happenings at the lunatic asylum popularly known as Bedlam. Penny is intrigued and pays her actor to pretend she’s his niece: together they set off to investigate the mystery which turns out to be as much about the future as the present.
Who wouldn’t want to read about a feisty thirteen year old who can out-write the best of Britain’s authors whilst keeping her identity a secret? The premise behind this book is instantly appealing and I fully expect Penelope to become a heroine to many young readers. Personally, however, I preferred the supporting adult characters, particularly her stern guardian, Wigram, and actor, Monty Maples, whom Penny employs to masquerade as the author of her spine-chilling tales. Monty’s cowardly traits, coupled with his desire to retreat to his club and quietly drink away the proceeds of his work for Penny, consistently made me smile.
While the characters are interesting, it is the plot that really draws you into this book. The mystery Monty and Penny set out to investigate is immediately intriguing. Why are the patients of Bedlam waking every night at exactly twelve minutes to midnight? What compels them to jump from their beds to furiously scribble nonsense, in their own blood if there isn’t anything else to write in? Then we realise that these apparently random scribblings aren’t random at all – Saturn Five. Apollo Eleven. The Eagle has landed. One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind. Collins. Aldrin. Armstrong. The story becomes all the more chilling once we realise they are really insights into the future.
The plot is cleverly structured and the text itself is beautiful written, the language effectively evoking the period. Indeed, everything about the Victorian setting is perfectly realised. There are no lengthy passages of description to plough through but every phrase and detail helps to build a vivid picture of the era that is so strong I could almost see, touch and smell it.
If you enjoyed this, why not join me in reading the other two books in this trilogy – Shadows of the Silver Screen and The Black Crow Conspiracy. Alternatively, why not try one of Christopher Edge’s other middle grade stories. These include The Longest Night of Charlie Noon, The Many Worlds of Albie Bright, The James Drake Equation or my personal favourite, The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day.
Publication Date: Re-issued 2019
Publisher: Nosy Crow
Author’s website: Christopher Edge