The Diamond of Drury Lane by Julia Golding

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The Diamond of Drury Lane by Julia Golding

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Judy Davies
Reviewed by Judy Davies
Summary: What an exciting and intriguing tale of gangs, money, love and disgrace. The Diamond of Drury Lane keeps the reader enthralled through 300 pages of seamy and gritty London life in the 1790s. All the historical detail is great and the underlying political turmoil is hinted at, giving us an insight into the dangers of speaking one's mind. The lead character is a star and I would definitely re-read this story, or a sequel, just to hear more of the adventures of the Cat of Drury Lane.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: April 2017
Publisher: Egmont
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781405285308

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Shortlisted for the Costa Children's Book Award.

Set in 18th Century London, this historical thriller captures all the rawness of life in the grimy city. A young girl, Cat, who was orphaned at birth, is taken under the wing of a kind benefactor, Mr Sheridan, who found her abandoned on the steps of his theatre. The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, is an exciting place to grow up, and Cat becomes a well-loved member of the staff behind the scenes. While running errands in the theatre, she dreams of being a famous writer herself one day. Before her dream is realised though, Cat has an important role to play in solving a mystery - the mystery of a diamond hidden in the Theatre Royal itself.

London in 1790 is a brutal and frightening place. There are poverty and political unrest, but also a ruling class of families who are powerful and unforgiving. Cat, despite her young age, manages to be accepted by the gangs of local ruffians, and also by the upper classes, who would normally ignore a lowly person like her.

The intriguing life of the theatre brings this story together, and it is cleverly described by Golding, giving the reader a taste of what it would be like to be watching from the stalls. With a mystery to be solved, Cat introduces us to the criminal classes, the Bow Street Runners, the horror of gaol, and a family of Dukes and Lords who are living a life of luxury and opulence.

I like the way the story is told through Cat's words, as she is plucky, loyal and determined. A lesser heroine might have given up many times, but Cat has the strength to fight for what she feels is right. There are great characters in the story who support her: the young Lord Francis, son to the Duke of Avon and Syd Fletcher, the leader of a local street gang. And there are colourful villains too: Billy Boil Shepherd, the evil leader of a rival gang, and the despicable Mr Marzi-Pain Marchmont. But Cat's best ally is a young performer taken on by the theatre for his musical and acting prowess. Although she feels she cannot completely trust him, Cat comes to admire Pedro, and he is by her side right to the end of the story.

This is a tale of misinformation and misunderstanding, and the plot has twists and turns along the way, keeping us on our toes, with tension building right to the last page. We feel all is lost several times and the story is exciting throughout. I liked knowing about the context of London in a political crisis and feeling the poverty and lawlessness. Golding is a great writer for the reader who loves historical fiction.

Written like a play being performed in a theatre, Cat narrates the tale in her own particular and vernacular style. She lets the reader into her thinking and we become an investigator of the mystery, just like her. There are old maps of London and a glossary of language which add interest and help set the context of the story.

This is much more than just a story. There is a wealth of historical information as well and I like the way Golding had been so thorough in her research. Some of the plot may seem a little convoluted and unbelievable, but who knows what really went on behind the scenes. An excellent book for fans of The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow by Katherine Woodfine or Murder Most Unladylike (Wells & Wong Mystery 1) by Robin Stevens. For something a little different, you could try Digging Up Milton by Jennifer Wallace.

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