Black Arts by Andrew Prentice and Jonathan Weil
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|Black Arts Black Arts by Andrew Prentice and Jonathan Weil|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 496||Date: March 2012|
|Publisher: David Fickling|
Longlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2013
London, 1592. Jack successfully completes a test with a local crime family and becomes a "nipper" or cutpurse thief. But Jack's first victim accidentally brings him into contact with a London even more dangerous than the one he already knows - one where magic is real and the fight between good and evil can have fatal consequences. Jack returns home to find his mother murdered by Nicholas Webb, a charismatic Puritan preacher currently whipping up the London crowds against demons and witches.
Jack sets out to kill Webb and avenge his mother's death. He has help in the form of a demon familiar, Beth Sharkwell, an accomplished con merchant and granddaughter of the leader of the Lambeth crime family Jack has joined, Kit Morely a spy and intelligencer, and even Doctor John Dee himself. But will it be enough to prevent London from falling to the ancient demon Webb intends to conjure?
Setting and dialogue stand out in this highly enjoyable adventure. Elizabethan London - for Londoners rather than nobility - rises vividly from its pages, in all its villainy and squalor. It lends a rich flavour to the novel as it immerses readers in the sights and sounds of lives lived hard. And the dialogue is just marvellous - from the cant of Sharkwell's image-laden criminal argot to Imp's absurd ratings. This book has swagger!
The plot twists and turns with more red herrings and double-crosses than you could shake a stick at and the cast of characters is extremely satisfying - Jack, a reluctant hero whose main motivation is to avenge his mother's murder; Sharkwell, an Elizabethan Fagin figure to savour; Beth, a hard-nosed girl with a hidden soft centre; Kit, the spy whose true loyalties are always in question; Imp, a witch's familiar with an hilarious line in ranting commentary. The final climax is a real page-turning experience.
I thoroughly enjoyed Black Arts and have put my name straight down for the second in this Books of the Pandemonium series, but I should say that - fun as it is - there is nothing unexpected here. You get exactly what it says on the fantasy adventure tin and that does include a predictable course and some flimsy plotting where a quick bit of magic trumps credibility. I don't think it really matters - we know what we want from a fantasy adventure and that's action, characters we can love or love to hate, and as much swag as the pages can fit. And Black Arts gives us all these things with gusto.
Gideon the Cutpurse by Linda Buckley-Archer is a time-slip adventure set in the present and in the eighteenth century and has a similar energy and vigour about it, especially concerning setting and dialogue. Nathan Fox: Dangerous Times by L Brittney, a highly enjoyable retelling of Shakespeare's Othello, may also appeal.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Black Arts by Andrew Prentice and Jonathan Weil at Amazon.com.
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