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Review of 'At The Sign of the Sugared Plum', a novel by Mary Hooper.
I am reviewing the paperback version of this book, published by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, 176 pages, ISBN 978-0747561248, cover price £5.99. Genre: - Children's Fiction.
The book is currently available from amazon for £4.19 (new) or from 0.01p used.
This book actually belongs to my 13 year old granddaughter, Katy. She is currently studying 17th century English social history at school. Katy's history teacher recommended this novel and the subsequent books in the series to the girls to give them an insight into life in England during the period their curriculum is covering.
Katy stayed with us recently and having finished her books, left them here for me to read as knowing my bookworm-ish tendencies, she felt I'd enjoy them, in spite of them being aimed at children.
The story begins in Chertsey in 1665. Hannah is excited as she is about to take her first ever trip to London in order to help her older sister Sarah in her shop 'The Sugared Plum'. Sarah is a confectioner and she makes sweetmeats and delicacies for the gentry, her business is doing well and she has requested Hannah be permitted to come to London in order to help her.
On arrival in London, Hannah does not however get the reception she expected from Sarah. Instead of giving Hannah a hearty welcome Sarah is horrified that Hannah did not get her message to stay away for her own safety, as the Plague is taking hold of London.
The sisters decide Hannah should stay for a few days and then return to the family home, unfortunately those few days are a big mistake as by the time Hannah is ready to go, she is not permitted to leave London. Travel in and out of the capital has been redistricted in an effort to contain the horrible disease. Only the rich who can afford to pay for a medical health certificate are able to leave the city.
Hannah and Sarah try their best to keep the shop going, but their wealthy customers dwindle and their neighbourhood is engulfed by plague. One by one they see their neighbours' homes boarded up as the inhabitant's contract the illness, the doors are painted with a red cross. No one is allowed in or out of these houses until 40 days have elapsed. The poor people trapped in their own homes have to pay watch guards to bring food but sadly most die an awful death and the girls often hear the screams and groans of the dying. This is then followed by the awful sight of the dead being hauled out of the buildings and unceremoniously dumped in the death carts to be taken away for burial.
Life seems very bleak indeed for the sisters and if it was not for Hannah's blossoming romance with Apothecary's apprentice Tom, the two girls would be in a very sorry state. Tom is able to procure talismans and medicines which seem toward off the plague for some, but are his herbal remedies enough to save the sisters from death?
I won't say more here for fear of ruining the story line for others but as there is a sequel, I think that speaks for itself!
**My Thoughts and Conclusion**
As mentioned, this novel is marketed for children and I would say that it would suit children from around 11 or 12 years onwards, provided they have an interest in historical matters. As you might expect the book is written in a style suited to younger readers and whilst the subject matter is often rather gruesome, it is written in a factual fashion with no sensationalism or graphic language.
It is clear to me that the author has researched the period she writes about very thoroughly. The storyline is a fairly simple one but the reader is transported to an era in time when life was pretty dismal for ordinary folk.
I thoroughly enjoyed this little novel, the characters are strong and believable, the storyline is simple, yet brisk, with no 'plodding' moments to bore young readers. I would like to think that novels of this type are a good way to engage children's interest in historical fiction.
My own grandchild was a little scathing of the book, as she did not enjoy the romantic element of the story although I felt it was not only necessary to the plot, but made for a little light-heartedness in what could have otherwise been a very sad and tragic storyline.
The author has added some recipes for sweets and remedies at the end of the book which I consider to be a rather nice touch of authenticy
I finished the book in an hour or so, I am a very fast reader and I must admit when I had finished it, I immediately set about reading the sequel! Now that has to be a good sign!
I would recommend this novel to others and am awarding it a 5* rating.
Thank you for reading.
©brittle1906 December 2012
N.B. My reviews may appear on other sites under the same user name