The Executioner's Daughter by Jane Hardstaff

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The Executioner's Daughter by Jane Hardstaff

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Robert James
Reviewed by Robert James
Summary: One of the best opening chapters in recent memory leads us into an excellent historical adventure.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: January 2014
Publisher: Egmont
ISBN: 978-1405268288

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Moss, the daughter of the Tower of London's executioner, hates her life but has no way to leave it. She seems destined to catch heads in her basket forever - but then she finds a secret tunnel and a way out of the tower. Her long-awaited taste of freedom turns sour, though, when she finds out that her life is not what it seems and an otherworldly adversary is seeking her. Can she escape? And who can she trust to help her?

I suppose it's possible, maybe even probable, that there exists a better way to start your novel than with the heroine being forced to pick up the head of Sir Thomas More after his execution. Having said that, I'm unconvinced I've ever seen one. This is a completely gripping opening chapter which, in the space of a dozen pages, perfectly positions Moss as a fabulous character, unwillingly playing her part in her father's executions while desperately wanting to get away from the Tower of London where they live as prisoners. In addition, it sets the scene in Tudor England superbly, bringing the perils of Henry VIII's reign vividly to life.

I’m not sure the rest of the book quite lives up to the stunning opening chapter, but that’s certainly not to say it’s ever less than an engaging read. Moss’s escape from the tower is exciting, and the scenes with her and the boy thief Salter whom she meets shine, showing an interesting friendship developing. In particular, I like the way Moss grows to realise that for all her dislike of the Tower she’s at least protected from real poverty there, and Salter – with a world view that morals are for those who can afford them – is a great contrast to her. (And the confidence trick he pulls on some unsuspecting fairgoers is a brilliant one.) Her overprotective father is a good supporting character as well and the main antagonist is very interesting, while there’s also a wonderful cameo from a real person which made me smile.

While the historical setting is excellent, I’m not quite convinced the paranormal parts work quite as well. They’re not weak, but they don’t seem as well-developed to me. Having said that, I did think the ending was both exciting and clever, and the overall pacing of the book was very good.

Highly recommended to fans of historical fiction; I’m certainly looking forward to Hardstaff’s next book.

I think the ultimate mixture of historical fiction and otherworldly aspects are the sensationally brilliant Kat Stephenson books, starting with A Most Improper Magick by Stephanie Burgis.

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