Gideon the Cutpurse by Linda Buckley-Archer

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Gideon the Cutpurse by Linda Buckley-Archer

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: First in a trilogy, this book sparkles with great dialogue, wonderful pace and high adventure. The time travel angle lends fun to an impeccably researched and rendered historical novel although the cliffhanger ending may put off more reluctant readers.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: June 2007
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Childrens Books
ISBN: 978-1416916574

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When Peter accompanies Kate and her father, Dr Dyer, to Dr Dyer's lab, it's simply to show Peter their party trick - how static electricity can make your hair stand right on end. But it frightens Kate's dog Molly and she bolts. As they chase after her, the lab's anti-gravity machine catapults Peter and Kate back to the eighteenth century. The anti-gravity machine is stolen by the Tar Man, a notorious criminal, and without it Peter and Kate are stranded. They are befriended by a reformed cut-purse named Gideon, but Gideon has his own feud with the Tar Man and if his past catches up with him before Peter and Kate catch up with the anti-gravity machine, they'll never be able to return home. Meanwhile, in the twenty-first century, a massive police hunt for the missing children is being hampered by secretive NASA scientists...

Gideon the Cutpurse is so, oh I don't know, flavoursome. It creates a living, breathing eighteenth century world with such a gusto that it carries the reader along and allows them to absorb a great deal of knowledge without it ever seeming educational or dull. The dialogue is simply wonderful. Even supporting characters are fleshed out and there are some wonderful cameos. The drinking, gambling Parson Ledbury isn't above cheating but has a big and generous heart. The spoiled eldest son of a rich family, Sidney, gets his teeth knocked out in a fight and must suffer the indignity of wooden dentures. But of course, the main story concerns two young children uprooted from everything familiar who must show courage in the face of danger. Aiding Peter and Kate against the villainous Tar Man is Gideon, a hero you simply can't help but look up to. It really is stonking stuff.

My only reservation with this remarkably entertaining novel is its cliffhanger ending. Without giving any spoilers - and don't check out the second volume, The Tar Man, on Amazon as I did, as the blurb frustratingly gives it all away - none of the plot strands are tied up. This may well frustrate some of the book's younger readers and it may even put off reluctant readers altogether. While I don't mind a loose end or two paving the way for further instalments in a series, I don't really like to see entire volumes as mere episodes. Children like - and need - a degree of closure. If the plot is compelling, the characters are strong and the writing is good - and all are admirably so in Gideon the Cutpurse - then children will want to read more. Leaving everything up in the air achieves little but risks quite a bit. I'm afraid I put down the book feeling somewhat irritated.

Having said that, if your child doesn't mind delaying resolution then Gideon the Cutpurse is a triumph. It's rich with the details of eighteenth century life, the adventures come thick and fast, and the dialogue fairly sparkles. The time travel motif also allows it to explore the familiar and realistic territory of the stresses and strains in modern family relationships. I loved Peter and Kate's chalk and cheese natures and I loved the Tar Man, a deliciously nasty villain if ever there was one. But I loved Gideon the best. He's a hero to remember.

My thanks to the good people at Simon & Schuster for sending the book.

Children interested in time travel would enjoy Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time and Jeanette Winterson's Tanglewreck, while those who enjoy historical fiction can find another eighteenth century romp in Nicola Morgan's The Highwayman's Footsteps.

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Buy Gideon the Cutpurse by Linda Buckley-Archer at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Gideon the Cutpurse by Linda Buckley-Archer at


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Magda said:

My two favourite novels of tweenage years were about modern (read :60's/70's) female teenagers transported into the past (19th and 18th century); in both cases as 'repalcements' of girls already there.

They were both rather girly (in an old-fashioned, meaning concerned with relationships and social mores not modern barbie way) but I loved them, probably because there is nothing like a time travel story to show how the past differs from the present, and also to allow one to relish the superiority of the present. I have a strong feeling that I became a proto-feminist after reading the one that had a champion-swimmer 14 year old from the 60's moved to 1895 or something...

Jill replied:

Ah, this one sees the superiority of the present, but it also features a lonely boy who makes connections in the past sorely lacking in his present life.