The Silver Blade by Sally Gardner

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The Silver Blade by Sally Gardner

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Stefan Bachmann
Reviewed by Stefan Bachmann
Summary: An absorbing historical thriller, dark-edged and awash with atmosphere and intrigue. A healthy dollop of magic makes everything all the more interesting. Though it is a sequel to The Red Necklace, it can be enjoyed to the fullest even without having read the first entry in the series. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 312 Date: April 2009
Publisher: Orion Children's Books
ISBN: 978-1842555972

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The French Revolution has passed by, leaving in its wake a country fraught with violence and lawlessness. Elation over the freedom from tyranny has quickly turned to malcontent as food goes from scarce to nonexistent and the new regime proves itself to be thoroughly dysfunctional. To keep the masses in good spirits, aristocrats are guillotined on a regular basis. But not if Yann Margoza can help it. A gypsy boy in possession of mystical powers, Yann aides French nobility in their escape to England. Little does he know that someone long presumed dead is watching his every move from deep within the Paris catacombs, and that this someone has sinister plans for Yann's lady-love, Sido, who is supposedly safe in London...

It was with some trepidation that I cracked open The Silver Blade. Its back cover bragged about a 'delicious love story'. Worse yet, it was the sequel to The Red Necklace, a book I had never heard of before. Fortunately, my concerns quickly proved to be unfounded. The 'delicious love story', as it turns out, is only a very small part of the book, and unlike many 'delicious love stories' it actually has something to do with rest of the plot. As for the fact that a completely different story took place before this one... well, the narrative never breaks its stride to let you know. While previous escapades are hinted it, they are never necessary to understanding the adventure at hand. Basically all that these hints do is make you want to go pick up the first book in order to see what you've missed.

After a superbly written prologue that catapults the reader right into the middle of things, the author begins a careful establishment of characters – two well-rounded chief-characters and a whole slew of equally well-rounded secondary ones from different countries, of different ranks, with different hopes, fears and motivations – each with a vital role to play in the story ahead.

What surprised me most about The Silver Blade was how very dark it was. I was half-expecting a posh piece of historical romance with a pinch of fantasy tossed in for good measure. It's nothing of the sort nor is it terribly romantic. The brutal unpredictability of post-revolution France is a constant threat to the characters, one that comes to the forefront in several rather shocking scenes. As for the fantasy element, it has nothing to do with fairies and pixie dust either. In fact, more often than not it borders on Gothic horror. There's an underground palace constructed entirely from human bones, a man with the hand of skeleton, and the 'Seven Sisters Macabre', automatons pieced together from the corpses of a murderer's most beautiful victims...

(Note to parents: this is really not a book for very young readers, even if they are fans of history. It's been hardly any time at all since I was a very young reader, so I know what I'm talking about when I say this sort of thing would have totally grossed me out.)

The Silver Blade has no major flaws (even if it is gruesome). I will, however, mention two I things I thought could have been done better. From the start, it was obvious that the author sympathizes with the plight of the nobles. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. They were people, too, no matter how detached from reality they had become. However she goes to the opposite extreme of portraying all the peasantry as ignorant, blood-thirsty and greedy. Doubtless many of them were, but certainly not all. I think a stronger varied depiction would have been more realistic. The other quibble I had was that at times the author slipped off into literary excess. Here and there bits of flowery purple prose cropped up that made me wince.

But these are indeed very small faults when measured against the sheer entertainment value of the book itself, against all the imagination, the excitement, the wonderfully evoked sense of menace, the creepy twists and skillfully woven plot... This book is fantastic.

A hearty 'Thank you' goes to the the publisher for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further reading suggestion: Catherine Fisher's Incarceron is very similar in tone and style to the book reviewed above, though it's really a full-blown fantasy and only superficially historical. Mariah Mundi by G. P. Taylor offers fantasy in a tangibly dismal Victorian atmosphere.

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Buy The Silver Blade by Sally Gardner at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Silver Blade by Sally Gardner at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Silver Blade by Sally Gardner at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Silver Blade by Sally Gardner at

Booklists.jpg The Silver Blade by Sally Gardner is in the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize 2009.


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Sharon Boniek said:

Excellent review by a young man who has a lot of foresight, knowledge or GOOD writing, and an intelligent way of stating the facts as he sees them regarding the book! Well done, Stefan!