Karl and Esther, both 13 years old, both bored by their restrictive Victorian lives, stumble across a mystery in the village where they live. It quickly leads them from their quiet land-locked lives to the coast of the UK and then back again to its heart before the climax, making some friends and very dangerous enemies along the way.
Jack Croxall has a pleasing, old-fashioned style of writing, an almost “Famous Five” feel to his words and language. The pacing is perfect, shifting the book forward at a nice clip and not lingering too long. I needed to keep reading!
The characters of Karl and Esther are fleshed out and full of life – their flaws and imperfections as well. I love that Karl can’t climb through windows as elegantly as Esther, nor can he sword-fight as effectively. Esther isn’t just a passive Victorian girl either, going weak at the knees at the first sign of danger, but is a kick-ass heroine in her own right. I loved the reaction of Karl when he sees the ocean for the first time; it really made me connect with the character.
The secondary adult characters were all nicely done as well, but I kept expecting them to have their own agendas. Perhaps an unwritten rule of YA is “Never trust anyone over the age of 30”, and I kept expecting a heel turn from them. I got the impression they were holding a lot back from Karl and Esther. Karl would announce a discovery or a clue, and the two men traveling with them would nod and smile as though it was expected. They put me on edge, and I was expecting something dark from them.
The accents of the characters dialogue were nice, apart from Scot Shona, who didna speak like this, but did speak like this. That was a flaw I would have liked fixed; everyone else speaks in a realistic voice.
I would have liked the two teens take on more of the danger themselves, but the adults take a lot of it. It is a YA book after all, and I don’t read YA for the grown-ups to have all the fun. On the other hand, it was nice to have at least competent adults on hand, and the kids did manage to do most of the important stuff.
There were a few typos I noticed, and a few grammar errors – a run on sentence here and there and a missing speech mark – but nothing that bumped me out of the story.
A delightful, fast-paced read with an old-fashioned feel to the structure. I enjoyed it a lot. (Tony Talbot)