|Bearkeeper by Josh Lacey|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A boy and his bear on a crucial family crisis-resolving adventure in Shakespearean England. The delights of the story and setting come through strongly in a most engaging and powerfully dramatic adventure for the 11+ audience.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 256||Date: April 2008|
|Publisher: Marion Lloyd Books|
Pip, his mother and step-dad are having what might almost be called halcyon days in the countryside. Pip works at the family forge most of the time, and fights imaginary enemies the rest, and for all the time passes gently, with slow changes to their lives, and soft words spoken. Until one day the whole peace is shattered by a gang of ruffians.
The criminals come with knowledge of the rumours that the step-dad has a miser's fortune squirreled away somewhere. They also bring something more disturbing – word that they intended to use the money as payment from one of their debtors – namely, Pip's own birth father, thought to be long dead.
Such a rude awakening makes the stubborn hero Pip determined to go to London and find out the truth, and find revenge. So, armed with the pluck and spirit he inherited, along with a special knife, he makes his way solo into the big city, where some incomplete directions, and circumstances involving fruit, lead him to a completely different world – that of Shakespeare's Globe theatre, and to a man acting as guardian of the bears that 'work' in the bear-baiting ring nearby.
The world here has been perfectly depicted – the research bringing the Burbage brothers to life, alongside other characters from the working theatre Pip slightly unrealistically pesters his way into, is worn lightly. You also get a clear sense of magic – the spirit of the theatrical world with the wonders it contains for Pip and the reader, merging with the high drama of the story, and the almost fantasy feel the historical setting brings to the fiction.
It is also a rollicking ride of an adventure, and all told very nicely. I must mention the way the book strides off at times into what is almost editorialising – explaining, in a gently non-patronising way the sexism, the lack of policemen, and various other inherent elements of the setting – that does not interfere with the story. Nor is this interesting way of adding to the scenery the only thing on the merit side regarding the style of the book.
It really is quite a saga, with high drama mixing very pleasantly with the slow-burning wait that Pip endures, while trying to get by in the big city, and locating the easily identifiable criminal leader (with dad not seen for seven years, he will never be recognised).
A warning, however – I have a strongly different opinion to the publishers on which age group this book is for, with their suggestion it is for the 8+ in my mind way off mark. The book is particularly earthy when it comes to the sights, sounds and liquids of London, and is certainly on the bloodthirsty side. I have credited books elsewhere on this site for leaving the violence to the imagination, which this does not. There is gore (of a kind) at the beginning, and definitely not a little at the end, where the hero proves so disappointingly indestructible the book loses all chances of winning the highly-coveted five stars I was wavering around giving it.
Still, four and a half stars are not to be sniffed at, and for a book that elsewhere ticks all the boxes more than adequately, are highly justified. For a strongly-written adventure, with the morals and dilemmas of the hero subtly made clear to the 11+ audience the book will easily find its home with, you cannot go wrong with Bearkeeper. We recommend it firmly, and thank the publishers for sending a copy to us to read.
It also appears that for this season's teen reads, a bear is the must-have accessory character. We also enjoyed The Gypsy Crown by Kate Forsyth, which backs my theory up nicely.
You can read more book reviews or buy Bearkeeper by Josh Lacey at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Bearkeeper by Josh Lacey at Amazon.com.
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