Title: Firewatcher #3: Vigil
Author: Kelly Gardiner
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Publisher: Scholastic Australia
Published: 1st January 2021
Synopsis: June 1944.
The war is finally turning against Hitler, but he has one last secret weapon: flying bombs, sent to destroy the City of London. Among the bomb blasts, Christopher must solve the riddle of the phoenix ring. He journeys back to its source: early Roman Londinium, now surrounded on all sides by the armies of the British queen, Boudica.
With help from a slave girl, Fortunata, Christopher learns the secrets of the ancient Roman fire-watchers, the Vigiles: but unknown to him, a sinister figure from 1666 has followed him through time. To foil a sinister plot, Christopher races across the centuries, to a rebuilt 17th century London, and a newly peaceful Lundenburg, until he and his friends finally untangle the truth.
Three years have passed since we last saw Christopher, and now, the world is in the final months of the war. Whispers of Hitler’s defeat, and the atrocities that have been occurring throughout Europe. When Kit begins helping with an archaeological dig of ancient London – Londinium– around the time of Queen Boudica and Nero, he finds coins that much like the medallion and ring, thrust him back in time to when fire and war threatened London in previous centuries. Yet back in his own time, a sinister foe from the first book – Brother Blowbladder – has appeared. Amidst bombs and going back and forth to save Fortunata whilst keeping his secret from his former teacher, Miss Chipping and Dr Perry, the archaeologist they’re working with. But can he protect his secret or will it all come out, and will history threaten to fold in on itself just as the war in Europe is starting to end?
I’ve been following this series since it first began, and I’ve been hooked. I love historical fiction and timeslip books, and in this one, England during World War Two mirrors the older Londons that Christopher travels to, and the people he meets become his friends and allies in the wars that they are all fighting that eventually converge in 1944. In this book, everything comes together, so it is best to read them in order. All three books are reviewed on this blog.
Using turbulent settings, and a diverse cast of characters based around race, culture, gender, sexuality, disability – just to name the ones that stood out to me – Kelly Gardiner has created a world that we can all see ourselves in, and where these differences just are, which is as they should be in any story. This enriches the experiences of other characters, but also acts to show that even if we have preconceived ideas about something, we can always learn from others and learn to be a better person, as well as looking at how war changes things for everyone, regardless of who they are. The changes might be different in many ways, but it is an experience that never leaves these people.
The time travel and time slip element is seamlessly woven in, and works so well with the history we know, that it is possible that this could happen. Kelly also draws on archaeology and mudlarking – the discovery of old treasures in areas such as the Thames that have washed up, or been discovered post bombing as historical sites emerge from beneath the streets of London that the contemporary characters live on. It is a world where everything is separate yet not – each London is part of the other Londons, the layers of history coming together to unite and create the London of 1944, and to defeat a threat that could have altered the outcome of the war. The fictional events are believable, and create a sense of reality, and present the dark world to younger readers in a realistic yet manageable way. It’s not about shying away from the topics and not talking about them – it’s about the characters and presentation and allowing younger readers to explore these concepts and themes in a way that makes sense to them. Kelly has managed to do this exquisitely throughout the trilogy, and has ensured that in the final book, everything that was hinted at begins to come together, yet at first, it is its own story, and the way it is all brought together is wonderfully and cleverly executed to ensure a few surprises, and for everyone to cheer for their heroes.
An excellent conclusion to a thrilling trilogy filled with history, mystery and magic.