Ghosts of Shanghai by Julian Sedgwick
|Ghosts of Shanghai by Julian Sedgwick|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A great series opener, that would be perfect if it didn't befuddle the reader with unanswered questions about the context the high drama is played out in.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 360||Date: July 2015|
|Publisher: Hodder Children's Books|
|External links: Author's website|
Shanghai, 1926. The city is heavily divided between the natural, national areas, and the enclaves of the foreigners – Russian, French, American, British. Several of the younger international youths have formed the Ghost Society gang, after the principal character, Ruby, found another divide cleaving Shanghai in two – that between the living and the dead, the 'real world' and the Otherworld. Her brother dead, she seemed to become the conduit for a poltergeist in her apartment, and recently the gang have even managed to lock a spirit into a bottle and cast it down a well. But the gang is immediately falling apart – the lad she loves, Charlie, and his sister are diverting themselves from, or have been warned off, any further such activity. Rose knows she has to find the source of the problem – and cross any untold divides in her city to find the truth…
And when you throw in the relationship people like Ruby has with the cityfolk, the birth of Communism, and gangsters, you might feel that the pudding is a little over-cooked. I didn't mind that so much as what was stuffed to the gills – the book wears its research a little too heavily for my liking. Characters drop in two or three local phrases; regions, streets and locales are identified by name as if we have a map in hand (and I don't mean the one in the forepages, half of which is lost in the centrefold); and I had a strong sense that Sedgwick was trying too hard to make this Shanghai the definitive one. And yet, at the same time, there is no context. Just what are these people doing in this city – what are these nationalities in the land for, and what is all the gunfire and weaponry use in aid of? What's the meaning of the French Concession – which doesn't even sound like a place – and what exactly is the reason for the Mansions, the enclave they live in?
That is left hanging, but what is clear from early on, regardless of your opinions regarding the local detail and flavour, is the drama of the tale. Make no bones about it, this is a page-turner, from the dropping in of political adults that would confuse Ruby's growing journey, to the really effective passages concerning her being haunted. This provides a lot of spooks, no end of cliff-hanging chapter breaks, and some vivid writing just on the cusp of things, allowing the 10-13 year old to really feel they are reading a mature book. It also has a great character in Ruby – a finely-wrought female lead, a girl who had a brother and lost him, along with her exploring guts and spunk. She's clearly portraying a girl whose passage into adulthood is being stymied on all fronts – but as I say, witnessing her passage across the boundary zones splitting Shanghai can be really, viscerally engaging. That's helped by a writing style that – when not intent on ramming the season down our throats – is delivering a perfectly pitched present tense, which unsettles at the start, then works superbly in putting us right in the action. Wherever that style and action takes her – and us – it should most certainly be worth following.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
Young Sherlock Holmes: Snake Bite by Andrew Lane might be for an audience a year or two older, but will provide similar high-octane drama in a historical Shanghai.
You can read more book reviews or buy Ghosts of Shanghai by Julian Sedgwick at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy Ghosts of Shanghai by Julian Sedgwick at Amazon.com.
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