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Sarah Singleton
Simon and Schuster
Feb 2006

�Look at me, Elizabeth. Do you think I�m wicked? Do you think I�m a devil? In my time everyone was a Catholic, because there was only one Church, but even then I was different from the others because of the shadow land. Don�t let your mind be clouded by what other people have told you. Judge me with your heart.�

So speaks the strange green child that twelve-year-old Elizabeth finds in the forest as she secretly tends a ruined Catholic shrine. The year is 1586 and Protestant England is an unforgiving place for Catholics. But mindless blame, fear and persecution are nothing new, as the green child, Isabella, can testify. She herself was born more than three hundred years ago, the child of a wise woman and midwife. Her mother was executed as a witch, a scapegoat when a rich family�s baby was born with a faulty heart, and since then Isabella has hidden mostly in the land of faeries, leaving her bones hidden in a hollow tree awaiting her return.

Yes, this all sounds a little strange, but Sarah Singleton has a gift for blending the seen and the unseen, the matter-of-fact and the magical, into a convincing whole. After all, what is the magical other than something we are not used to or don�t understand? And that is what this book deals with; the problem of how the different (in this case the spiritually different) can be demonised by the unthinking mob. Set against the hounding of Ruth Leland (Isabella�s mother) and the sixteenth century persecution of Catholics is the simple and powerful friendship that develops between the two girls. For Isabella her tragedy is done, and yet she berates herself for not having stayed at her mother�s side until the bitter end. For Elizabeth the fear has just begun: the Queen has sent the brutal Christopher Merrivale to hunt for the priest that her family is sheltering. Perhaps here there is a chance for the two girls to help each other: for Isabella to gain �closure� and a second chance with a loving family, whilst Elizabeth gains safety and escape.

A powerful tale against a strong historical backdrop, this book introduces many themes but works most of all because of the focus on the girls� fears and hopes and needs. In comparison, the sinister Merrivale, the dogmatic and ecstatic priest, even the cold-hearted faeries, seem unimportant, no matter what their schemes and desires. The writing, too, is mostly first rate, with a great feel for visual detail:

�As the men whispered one to another, light and shadows slid over their faces, alternately revealing and hiding eyes, noses, mouths moist with wine and words. They looked like demons, leering and grimacing.�

A highly appealing, multi-dimensional historical adventure. Check it out.

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This page contains a single entry by Patrick Cave published on March 28, 2006 11:55 AM.

No Room for Napoleon was the previous entry in this blog.

The Awful Tale of Agatha Bilke is the next entry in this blog.

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