Montacute House by Lucy Jago

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Montacute House by Lucy Jago

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Interesting, slightly supernatural historical mystery that cleverly joins a superbly-researched picture of Elizabethan England and the current thirst for all things witchy. A great debut with strong characterisation and one for all teen fans of historical fiction.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: May 2010
Publisher: Bloomsbury
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 1408803763

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Cess is the poultry girl at Montacute House. She and her mother live alone - Cess has never met her father. In fact, she doesn't even know who he is. Shunned by the other villagers because of her illegitimacy, Cess has only two friends, both also social outcasts. There's William, who has a club foot - thought of as a curse in Elizabethan England, and Edith, who's been chased out of the village for witchery by the woman-hating local priest.

Then Cess finds a precious locket in the hen coop. It's as though someone placed it there specifically for her to find. And then boys start going missing. Some are found dead. When William joins their ranks, the villagers accuse Cess of sorcery. Determined to find William and prove her innocence, Cess embarks on a dangerous path which will bring her into contact with political intrigue, a coven of witches, and a great evil...

I really enjoyed this debut novel. It blends a slightly supernatural element, so popular at the moment, with a wonderfully accurate picture of life in Elizabethan England. Jago's research is impeccable and no detail escapes her notice. Other books cover the politics and spy network of the time, but Montacute House shows life for both nobles and commoners, through little details about houses and meals and costume, right through to social attitudes towards illegitimacy, witchcraft, marriage and disability. A vivid picture rises from the pages and it complements the mystery plot tremendously, with Jago proving that you don't have to choose between education and entertainment. My press sheet talks about the Key Stage 3 curriculum, and it's exactly the sort of thing my son has been using as a complementary resource. At the same time, the plot is tense, the mystery well worked out, and the central character is extremely appealing.

Cess is a reluctant heroine but, as all good reluctant heroines do, she steps up to the plate at a time of crisis. She has a strong sense of personal ethics and a deep well of courage. She's also intelligent and independent of thought. Readers will love her.

If I had a tiny nit to pick, it would be that the ending is just that little bit too pat. I'd have liked something just a tiny bit more realistic. But otherwise, this one comes recommended by the Bookbag.

My thanks to the good people at Bloomsbury for sending the book.

They might also enjoy The Witching Hour by Elizabeth Laird, a beautifully written story about the witch hunts of the 1700s and the persecution of the Covenanters in Scotland. Lighter books talking about spycraft in Elizabethan England include By Royal Command by Mary Hooper and Nathan Fox: Dangerous Times by L Brittney.

Buy Montacute House by Lucy Jago at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Montacute House by Lucy Jago at

Buy Montacute House by Lucy Jago at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Montacute House by Lucy Jago at


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