City of Thieves by Ellen Renner

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City of Thieves by Ellen Renner

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: A thrilling and terrifying story of criminals, regicides and traitors, and the young people who struggle to defeat them, and save not only the people they love but their whole country.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: August 2010
Publisher: Orchard Books
ISBN: 978-1408304464

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There's nothing better than an adventure story where the thrills and shocks just keep on coming, where you sneak a look at the number of pages left and think nothing more can be piled on the unfortunate heroes, only to see them hit again - and then again! - with shocks and reversals of fortune. At the beginning of this gripping Gothic tale twelve-year-old Charlie has found her long-lost mother, and is about to be crowned Queen Charlotte of Quale; her dear friend and playmate Tobias is still in shock from the revelation that his father is the traitor who plotted to betray their country. The villain, who also killed Charlie's father the King, is about to be hanged for his crimes and the two young people feel once he is dead they will be able to get on with their lives. But mere hours before he is due to die, the devious and complex Windlass escapes from his prison cell . . .

If there is one over-arching theme to this book, it is how circumstances trap people and force them to live and behave in ways they do not wish. Charlie is now a queen, but when she tries to make a decision or give an order she finds politics or expediency prevent her. Neither she nor her mother the Dowager Queen can move freely about their home any more: they know the regicide Windlass wants to kill Charlie and force her mother to hand over the research into deadly weapons which could either save or destroy their country. Tobias, although welcome in the castle, bears the burden of shame because of the actions of both his father and, subsequently, his mother. Furthermore, he has discovered he has another family, through his adopted father: a gang of ruthless and violent criminals who are determined that he and his skills must belong to them. And even some of these same criminals feel trapped and crushed by their lives.

Castle of Shadows focussed on Charlie: the central character now is Tobias, and his efforts to do the right thing in an increasingly complex situation. But whatever he does, no matter how hard he struggles, he finds himself getting more and more enmeshed in other people's plots, and in the end he is forced to commit acts of terrible evil in order to avoid causing harm to those he loves. This book is aimed at readers of nine and above: they will be thrilled by the excitement and the danger, but no doubt it is the moral dilemmas of the unfortunate heroes which will stay with them long after the book is finished.

It is a sign of an excellent sequel that you do not have to have read the previous book to enjoy it (although Castle of Shadows is also extremely good, and has garnered a large number of positive reviews). Ms Renner has a gift for plotting, and she manages to thread the back story into this tale almost without the reader noticing. The vast castle where Charlie lives facilitates this: at every turn it reminds her of her fears, her sorrows and her joys, from the murky basements to the slippery roof tops. It is almost a character in itself, with its small pockets of warmth and comfort in the midst of the cold, dank corridors and state rooms.

The story ends on a bit of a cliff-hanger – normally a complete no-no for this reviewer – but almost all the threads of this particular part of the saga are tied up, and those that remain feel very much like a new and different story. Still, it will be awaited with great impatience by many readers of all ages!

Many thanks to the publishers, Orchard, for sending us this brilliant book.

Further reading suggestion: If you enjoy Victorian adventure stories, try the brilliant Fallen Grace by Mary Hooper. And if you like to add a little fantasy to the mix, you won't do better than the exciting and funny Mothstorm by Philip Reeve and David Wyatt. You might also enjoy Oksa Pollock: The Last Hope by Anne Plichota and Cendrine Wolf.

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