Becoming an instant Cynthia Harnett fan after reading “The Wool Pack”, it was with a deal of pleasure I set to read her account of King Henry V’s ventures into France, and the Lollards who were plotting against him.
Young Dicken is apprenticed to his godfather, Dick Whittington, as a mercer. Having come from a family of grocers, this causes him no small amount of grief; clothiers having always been at odds with victuallers in apprentice battles. To add to his burden, he unwittingly becomes a tool of the lollards in a plot to overthrow the king.
London and her citizens of 1415 are painted in with a remarkable degree of domestic detail and accuracy, enhancing rather than burdening the story. The characters are such that we can admire them, while retaining enough humanity that we can also relate to the trials they face.
A pleasant contrast to many children’s writings, the author does not glorify the children, and represent the adults as distant, distracted, or unintelligent. The two adults in the lives of the junior characters are men of esteem and position, and show wisdom and care for the people about them. While the children are instrumental in uncovering a plot to murder the king, it is mere happenstance, rather than credulity stretching talent on their part.
Harnett has added two features I always appreciate in children’s historical fiction. One is the postscript detailing which events and characters are fictional, and the sources for the factual information used in the story. The second, her own illustrations of the everyday objects and scenes she describes. From the “new horned headdress” that Dicken sold in the market, to the houses and shops lining London bridge, a bounty of history is contained in the generous array of detailed line drawings.
The publisher recommends the book for ages nine and over. Sensitive readers may flinch at the descriptions of the traitors heads on pikes over the bridge, although it is not laboured on.
Overall, quite an interesting book, with much of lasting value to be gleaned.