Road to London by Barbara Mitchelhill

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Road to London by Barbara Mitchelhill

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: Thomas dreams of running away to London to act with William Shakespeare. But when he gets there, he finds himself embroiled in a plot just as dramatic as anything his hero could write.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: April 2012
Publisher: Andersen Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781849394079

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Elizabethan London, made all the more wonderful by the splendour of the court and the magic of Shakespeare's imagination, is a perfect place to set an adventure. Mysteries, plots and conspiracies abound, and the stark contrast between the lives of the rich and the poor makes for a colourful and thought-provoking story. Add to that the privileged position we find ourselves in as we follow our young hero Thomas and his good friend Alice from the stinking streets full of cutthroats and foot-pads right into the presence of the Good Queen herself, and young readers are in for a treat.

Thomas has always dreamed of becoming an actor, and when he narrowly escapes getting arrested for poaching he flees his home and makes his way to London, fearful that if he is caught he will be punished by having a hand chopped off—if he's lucky. On the way he meets up with Alice, a lively and determined girl who shows him around the city and helps him find Shakespeare's band of actors. But soon Alice herself is in need of help: she has overheard a plot to assassinate the Queen and she barely escaped after a terrible beating. The villains are looking for her, and her life is in danger. The two young friends will need to call on every ounce of courage and resourcefulness they possess to keep Alice safe and find a way to warn Elizabeth of the danger to her life.

Much of the charm of this book lies in the historical detail. It is clear Ms Mitchelhill has researched the period carefully, but at no time do we, the readers, feel we are being over-burdened with unnecessary facts or descriptions. The plot hurries along at a smart pace, moving from the inns and streets of the capital to the hovel inhabited by Alice's family, and then on to the sumptuous rooms of the palace where the Chamberlain's Men are to perform a new play called Much Ado about Nothing for Her Majesty. We learn of Alice's poverty by the way her mother and brothers fall on the scraps left over from the feast Shakespeare provides for his troupe. Elizabeth herself looks old and wrinkled, with black and rotten teeth, and is far shorter than Alice and Thomas think appropriate for such a powerful monarch. And when Alice does something considered at that time to be unsuitable for a girl, she nearly finds herself thrown into the Tower, along with Shakespeare himself.

Along with all the drama, the threats and the danger, we enjoy several scenes of comedy as the story progresses. Alice's mother is not above a little acting herself as she threatens, loudly and dramatically, to faint when a diversion is needed, and her youngest sons are just as clumsy and naughty as small boys can be. And Alice herself, unused to the fine company she finds herself in, is not afraid to address the Queen directly and tell her, in a forthright tone, just where she is going wrong. All in all, this is an exciting story, told in language simple enough for readers who have not been reading independently for very long, but with enough action and colour to make it appeal to older readers too.

Another book by Barbara Mitchelhill which gives fascinating insights into the life of children of another age is Run Rabbit Run, about the children of a conscientious objector during WWII. And the excellent Mary Hooper has written three books about a girl spy at the court of Elizabeth I. Bookbag recommends By Royal Command.

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