The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms #1) by Kate Forsyth

UnknownTitle: The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms #1)

Author: Kate Forsyth

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Pan Macmillan

Published: 10th November 2007

Format: Paperback

Pages:202

Price: $9.99

Synopsis: Once there was a gypsy queen who wore on her wrist a chain of six lucky charms – a golden crown, a silver horse, a butterfly caught in amber, a cat’s eye shell, a bolt of lightning forged from the heart of a falling star, and the flower of the rue plant, herb of grace. The queen gave each of her six children one of the charms as their lucky talisman, but ever since the chain of charms was broken, the gypsies had been dogged with misfortune.

It is even worse for the Finch tribe – they have been thrown into gaol with only three weeks to live. The only members of the family to escape are thirteen-year-old Emilia and her cousin Luka, who have been entrusted to find the six charms and bring them together again. What Emilia and Luka do not realise is that there is a price to be paid for each lucky charm, and that the cost may prove too high…

Book 1: The Gypsy Crown:
9th August – 12th August 1658

Maggie has given them the first charm – an old gold coin – but Luka and Emilia must escape the brutal thief-taker, Coldham. With a horse, a monkey, a dog, and a huge brown bear in their train, it is hard to travel secretly as they flee across the Surrey countryside. With a little bit of luck – or, as Emilia believes, magic – they manage to escape, but Coldham will not give up so easily.

Winner of Aurealis Awards for Best Children’s Long Fiction 2007

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AWW-2018-badge-roseI have had this series on my shelf for a few years, and between finishing studies and reviewing for publishers, finding time to read them has been tight – thankfully, I am for once, on top of my requests, with a couple directly received from authors to go which will hopefully be up within the next two weeks.

To start, I adore anything Kate Forsyth writes – and The Gypsy Crown, which starts the Chain of Charms series, is no exception. Set during the turbulent days of Oliver Cromwell’s rule over England in the 1650s, Emilia and Luka Finch are sent on a daring quest across England to reunite a chain of charms –  a crown (coin), a silver horse, a herb of grace, a cat’s eye shell, a lightning bolt and a butterfly in amber – that was once split between six traveller/Rom/gypsy families – all three are used throughout the book to refer to the characters and to reflect the attitudes of the time in a genuine and authentic way – the Finches, their family who hold the crown, the Hearnes, the Wood tribe, an elusive tribe who holds the cat’s eye charm, the Smiths and the Graylings. Each family, or tribe, holds a charm, and uniting them will hopefully help their family and gain their release from prison.

Emilia and Luka have the crown – but to start gathering the rest of the charms, they must escape Coldham – responsible for rounding up their family and other thieves. But they also have a bear, a dog, a monkey and a horse with them, making travel harder. But as they run across Surrey, they will embark on a journey that will change their lives.

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Kate Forsyth writes her historical fiction books for adults and children so that the well-researched facts meld seamlessly with the fictitious characters and plot that is engaging, informative and fast-paced. There are no lags, and the intrigue of what is happening and the quest for the rest of the charms. This series for children has an exciting start, filled with mystery and glimpses of the past, with echoes and foreshadows of centuries of discrimination against many groups including Emilia and Luka’s people – as they are hunted by Coldham. It allows readers to explore history in an educational and enjoyable way, and Kate Forsyth has done an excellent job at showing the prejudices of Coldham whilst maintaining respect for Emilia and Luka.

I’m about to start the second book, The Silver Horse, and hope to have the entire series read soon.

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The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

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Title: The Pearl Thief

Author: Elizabeth Wein

Genre: Children’s/YA Historical Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 1st July, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 408

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: From the internationally acclaimed bestselling author of Code Name Verity comes a stunning new story of pearls, love and murder – a mystery with all the suspense of an Agatha Christie and the intrigue of Downton Abbey.

Sixteen-year-old Julie Beaufort-Stuart is returning to her family’s ancestral home in Perthshire for one last summer. It is not an idyllic return to childhood. Her grandfather’s death has forced the sale of the house and estate and this will be a summer of goodbyes. Not least to the McEwen family – Highland travellers who have been part of the landscape for as long as anyone can remember – loved by the family, loathed by the authorities. Tensions are already high when a respected London archivist goes missing, presumed murdered. Suspicion quickly falls on the McEwens but Julie knows not one of them would do such a thing and is determined to prove everyone wrong. And then she notices the family’s treasure trove of pearls is missing.

This beautiful and evocative novel is the story of the irrepressible and unforgettable Julie, set in the year before the Second World War and the events of Code Name Verity. It is also a powerful portrayal of a community under pressure and one girl’s determination for justice.

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The Pearl Thief is set in England in 1938, in the year that preceded the incoming storm of World War Two, preceding Hitler’s march across Europe, and it’s characters show no indication that they are aware of the impending threat to their lives. Julie is on her way home from boarding school – a final summer at her family’s ancestral home before it becomes a school On her way hoe, Julie is attacked, and a well known archivist from London goes missing, presumed dead. And it is the McEwen family, a family of Travellers, who become caught up in the mystery after taking care of Julie and getting her to hospital. When Julie notices the family pearls have gone missing, she tries to piece together the night she was attacked, and slowly, a mystery unfolds. Whilst the investigation surges on, even with a lack of evidence, the suspicious eye is cast over the McEwens, despite Julie’s protestations that they could not have done it, questioning the reasoning everyone has. Amidst all this, the treasure trove of Murray pearls has gone missing, and Julie is determined to find it, and together with her brother, Jamie, and the McEwens, she strives to solve the theft – and a murder, with results that are as surprising as the rest of the novel.

For Julie, it is a final childhood summer, where she can relive the good memories and make some new ones, but at the same time, new discoveries about her mother and the McEwens, and her interactions with Ellen and her brother, have Julie questioning what she knows about herself and her feelings, but the world that she has known in comparison to Ellen’s world, and what they learn from each other through their new-found friendship. Like any friends, they had their disagreements on things and it took them a while to see that what something meant to Ellen, meant something different to Julie and vice versa, encapsulating the formation of an unexpected friendship between the two girls.

There are moments when the novel does not dwell on the mystery of the missing pearls and murder of the archivist, but rather, on the formation of the relationships between Julie and the Travellers, and how this begins to affect her and how she sees herself and the world. This character development ensures a solid grounding for the story, and even though the mystery was intriguing, it was nice to see the realistic approach that didn’t involve the obsessive nature and drive to solve the mystery, but rather, a nice balance between getting the characters and plot right to get from beginning to end, and allowing the characters to overcome hurdles and distractions, but ultimately, solving a mystery that had a very unexpected outcome, and an enjoyable journey to get there as a reader.

The Pearl Thief is marketed towards the children’s and Young Adult market, but I still enjoyed it and the setting that seemed to sing from every page – the Scottish landscape, and the speech of the characters cemented the time and place effectively. A great novel for anyone who likes mysteries, adventure and intriguing characters.

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