Crow Boy by Philip Caveney

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Crow Boy by Philip Caveney

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: Tom is on a school trip to a seventeenth century street in Edinburgh when he finds himself transported back in time—to the very moment when bubonic plague is spreading through the city. Worse still, he is forced to work for the plague doctor. The question is, can he survive long enough to find a way home?
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 218 Date: November 2012
Publisher: Fledgling Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781905916559

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Life is tough for Tom Afflick. He's the new boy at school — never a happy situation — and some of his classmates take every opportunity to bully him. They laugh at his accent, and once they find out his mum ran away from her English husband and is now living with the unlovely Hamish, then things go from bad to worse. He misses his friends back in Manchester, and his dad seems to be making barely any effort whatsoever to contact him. Then he makes a huge mistake: on the school trip to Mary King's Close (a real place, by the way, which you can visit next time you're in Edinburgh) he reveals that he already knows a lot about the beginnings of the plague because his class had already studied it, back in his old school. His fate is sealed, and number-one bully Gillies promises to thump him as soon as the teacher is out of sight.

Obviously Tom wants to avoid being beaten up, but not this way. He falls through a floor, and when he opens his eyes he's in the middle of a busy street, about to be mown down by a horse and carriage. And everyone there is dressed in seventeenth century clothes. Tom's astonishment and disgust grow as he realises just how dirty and ill-fed people are — no wonder the plague spreads so easily. And then he is employed (or, more precisely, forced) to be the servant of the famous plague doctor whose face is never seen because he wears a mask to protect him from the 'miasma' of contagion. The man is cruel and greedy, and quite happy to use violence on the unfortunate Tom.

Philip Caveney is a gifted and experienced writer, and he does not simply present the reader with a straightforward time slip novel. Tom moves from time to time, and even in and out of parallel universes, and on each occasion the same characters appear, sometimes as major players in his life, sometimes lurking in the background. They have different jobs and homes, and they even appear at different times in their lives, leaving Tom confused and scared. But he keeps returning to Mary King's Close in 1645, where life is cheap and medical treatments are sometimes more painful and grisly than the illnesses themselves. Through Tom's eyes we see a gruesomely vivid picture of life at the time, and with him we shudder at the poverty, deprivation and filth which were the rich breeding ground for disease.

The book is both intriguing and thrilling. Tom is first made to earn his keep by feeding the pigs, he is treated less kindly than an animal by the sinister doctor, and at one moment he even has to flee for his life across the rooftops, but there is still time for kindness, loyalty and friendship. Tom even begins to learn a little compassion for the people who commit crimes simply because they would otherwise starve. It is a rich, satisfying book, with lots of layers and plenty to think and talk about, and it deserves to be as popular with readers as Mr Caveney's other excellent books.

That Mr Caveney really does like scaring his poor heroes out of their wits! If you think you'd enjoy more of his stories about people being sent to extraordinary places where their lives are in peril every few minutes, try Night on Terror Island and the sequel, Spy Another Day as well as The Calling. Thrilling!

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Buy Crow Boy by Philip Caveney at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Crow Boy by Philip Caveney at


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