This historical detective story takes place in England in 1810, with a voice styled in the manner of Jane Austen. As in some of Austen’s works, the family of the bride — the theft of whose dowry forms the backbone of the plot — exist on the edge of the upper class, and many of their interactions revolve around family economics and marital prospects. However, this book introduces us to characters from all the corners of London’s Jewish society, from its wealthy benefactors, to merchants and artisans, and down to its own crew of pickpockets. We see that Jews in the community lived many different lives. One of the book’s strengths as a work of historical fiction is that it moves beyond just “local color,” weaving a plot that depends on events in British and Jewish history that may not be well-known to US readers, but which were integral to the experiences of early 19th century Jews. Young male readers may need some encouragement to get past the prologue, which is contrived as a young woman’s attempts to befriend her imagined female readership. In fact, the story itself should appeal to both genders equally. A good buy for Jewish children’s collections that are looking for appropriate novels for older children and young adults, especially books that are focused on positive periods in our history. For ages 10 – 14.
Naomi Morse managed a public library children’s room in Montgomery County, Maryland for many years, and then worked as head librarian at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School Lower School in Rockville, Maryland. She has served on AJL’s Sydney Taylor Committee, and last year (2008) was a member of ALA’s Caldecott Committee. She is an independent book reviewer.