Supposedly a novel for 'middle grade' readers this is definitely for the older end of that age range. Cato Hopkins is a member of Mother Hopkins' criminal gang in 18th century London. An aging Mother Hopkins wants to pull one last con, this time on the daughter of a cruel slave-owning sea-captain. The story unfolds as told by fourteen year old Cato from his condemned cell, the night before his execution. (See what I mean about the age of the readers?) What he tells the clergyman bookends the story, but between the bookends we also get his recollections. He's a foundling, a brown skinned babe bought from his mother for a few pennies and reared, nit unkindly, by Mother Hopkins in a gang of similar unfortunates. Their base being rooms in the inn called A Nest of Vipers, comfortable in its familiarity. The little gang specializes in conning marks out of their money, choosing the greedy as their victims because, as Cato says, you can't con an honest man. Their con is planned down to the last detail, but it doesn't go according to plan. The characters are sympathetic, the setting (London 1712) feels authentic and the action carries you along nicely. This is an engaging read and you are certainly rooting for Cato as his story is told and the cart comes to take him to Tyburn. No spoilers, but this is a book for children, so take a guess at the ending.
Dec. 31st, 2018
I read Stephanie Burgess' Snowspelled last year and was very happy to make another trip into her Angland, where the women are the politicians and the men are magicians. Politicians who enter the Boudiccate always have a magician husband. Amy Standish is an ambitious young woman who has taken a position with powerful politician Miranda Harwood in order to be boosted to the ranks of the Boudiccate. For that she needs an advantageous marriage with a magician, and Miranda has introduced her to the perfect one, except he's neither perfect nor 'the one'. Unfortunately the one Amy is drawn to is Amanda's son, Jonathan, who has flatly refused to train as a magician, something no one can understand. Amy doesn't understand either, until she discovers something about Jonathan's sister, Cassandra. This is a story about turning the established order on its head. At novella length, it's a perfect read-in-a-day story. (And 10/10 for a lovely cover.)