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Review of 'Petals in the Ashes', a novel by Mary Hooper.
I am reviewing the paperback version of this book, published by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, 192 pages, ISBN 978-0747564614, cover price £5.99. Genre: - Children's Fiction.
The book is currently available from amazon for £4.49 (new) or from 0.01p used.
This book is the sequel to 'At the Sign of the Sugared Plum' and it belongs to my 13 year old granddaughter, who is currently studying 17th century English social history at school. Katy's history teacher recommended this author's novels to the girls in order to give them an insight into life in England during the period their curriculum is covering. When Katy stayed with us recently, she finished her books and 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 London in 1666. Hannah and her older sister Sarah have had to leave their sweetmeat shop 'The Sugared Plum', following the ravages of the plague. The sisters have been able to flee London thanks to the underhand tactics of obtaining health certificates in false names. They have been tasked with taking the baby daughter of a noble woman to the safety of relatives in the countryside. Their journey is successful, but on arrival at the home of the baby's aunt, they are forced to submit to being sent to the pest house for 40 days and nights in order to ensure they are not carrying the plague. This is a dreadful place but luckily the baby's aunt is a wealthy woman who is able to arrange to have decent food and clothing sent in to Hannah and Sarah.
On release from the pest house, the sisters stay for while with the child's family before travelling to Chertsey where their own family live. Hannah is anxious to return to London both to find out if her boyfriend Tom has survived the plague and to re-open the shop. News from London tells that the plague is no longer such a risk, but Sarah does not wish to return as she has formed a relationship with a local man and wants to remain in Chertsey. Hannah tries to persuade her parents to allow Anne, her younger sister to accompany her to London.
Finally Hannah gets her way and returns to London to re-open the sweetmeats shop with Anne. The city is still reeling from the plague epidemic of the previous year, but Hannah and Anne are keen to start enjoying everything the bustling city has to offer. They find that although many people have perished, there are now plenty of rich folk back in the city and the business begins to flourish again. Hannah's happiness seems to be short lived when she is told that her beloved Tom has died of plague in her absence, but she cannot believe this and is convinced that she has seen Tom in a fairground sideshow. She sets out to discover the truth.
Rumours abound and a soothsayer has prophesised that 1666 is the year of the Beast and terrible things will happen. Before long the prophesy comes to fruition as a dreadful fire breaks out in Pudding Lane, flames rage through the city, engulfing everything in its path.
I won't say here whether Hannah is reunited with Tom or if the girls survive the fire for fear of ruining the story line for others. If you want to know you'll have to read the book!
**My Thoughts and Conclusion**
As mentioned, this novel is written for children and I would say that it would suit children from around 12 years onwards. The book is written in a simple style ideally suited to younger readers. The author paints a vivid and interesting look at London life in the 17th century and although the subject matter is by nature rather sombre, the story is never gruesome or overdone. Naturally being a children's novel there is no bad language, sensationalism or graphic love scenes!
I must admit that I enjoyed this novel, however my granddaughter who is of course in the age group the book is aimed at, tells me she preferred the first novel in the series as she found this one a bit 'soppy'.
In my opinion, the characters are strong and believable, although I found the younger sister Anne somewhat irritating! The author has researched the period she writes about extremely thoroughly. The story line may be a simple one but the historical events are very well described and her characterisation is excellent.
As with the author's previous book, the story line is simple, yet moves along briskly. Dialogue is written in terms of the period the novel is set in which adds to the realism of the story. I found the scenes describing people fleeing from the Great Fire of London particularly well written and for that reason I have to say that I prefer this book of the two.
As mentioned at the beginning of the review this novel is a sequel to 'At the Sign of the Sugared Plum' and I believe that it would be best to read that first as many events and characters would not make sense had the preceding novel not been read.
I would recommend this novel to others and am awarding it a 5* rating.
Thank you for reading.
©brittle1906 December 2012
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