- Category: Historical Fantasy, Children’s Fiction
- Title: A Very Unusual Pursuit, City of Orphans Book 1
- Author: Catherine Jinks
- Publisher: Allen & Unwin 2013
- Awards: Winner Adelaide Festival Award for Children’s Literature, Short-list 2014 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature, Short list 2014 Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year: Younger Readers, Short-list Norma K Hemming Award, Winner CBCA Book of the Year Younger Readers.
My Review: From page one, A Very Unusual Pursuit jumps straight into the action when Birdie, a ten-year old girl and Alfred, the Go-Devil man – the catcher of bogles – arrives on the door step of a well-to-do house in the streets of 19th century London. A child is missing and Alfred and his apprentice Birdie have been called in to catch the bogle lurking in the chimney.
‘Monsters have been infesting London’s dark places for centuries, eating any child who gets too close. That’s why ten-year old Birdie McAdams works for Alfred Bunce, the bogler. With her beautiful voice and dainty looks, Birdie is the bait that draws bogles from their lairs so that Alfred can kill them.’
Soon after the killing of the chimney bogle, Alfred and Birdie are approached by two women – Sarah Pickles, who runs a gang of pick-pockets, and Mrs Edith Eames, an upper class lady who studies folklore. Sarah Pickles wants Alfred and Birdie to lure our the bogles that she suspects have killed her boys, while Edith Eames wishes to join Alfred and Birdie on their bogle hunts so she can study them.
Concerned for Birdie, Mrs Eames arrives with suggestions of other ways Alfred can lure the bogles, but Birdie feels threatened – being a boglers apprentice is all she knows – and without that – what is she? Birdie feels her life as a ‘bogler’s ‘prentice’ is a fortunate one, as an orphan in 19th century London she could have ended up in the workhouse or thieving, or working in the mines. So when Alfred plucked her from the canals after hearing her singing voice she learned to lure the child eating bogles from their lairs. And besides, how would Alfred lure them out without her – she had to help him catch bogles or more children would be eaten.
They begin their bogle hunt at the house of Dr. Morton where one of Sarah Pickles boys went missing, but it soon turns nasty when they are faced with a powerful bogle. The lives of Alfred and Birdie are threatened when the mysterious doctor forces them to help him capture a bogle for his own cruel intentions and they are drawn into Dr Morton’s sinister world.
Catherine Jinks has painted pictures with her words of Victorian London and paired it with bogle-luring songs sung by Birdie, the cockney accents of the poor, the crisp words of the upper class and the old-fashioned descriptions of the times like ‘cadger’ for beggar and ‘chink’ for money. My only small complaint, which has nothing to do with the writing, is that perhaps the glossary of terms could have been at the front of the book instead of the back, as I didn’t know they were there until I finished the book.
I can understand why this book was nominated for a NSW Premier’s Literary Award and short-listed for the Children’s Book Council of Australia. A Very Unusual Pursuit is a wonderfully written historical fantasy with a great female heroine. Birdie is bright, brave and clever and I really enjoyed reading about this plucky young girl who is happy right where she is, thank you very much – she’s a ‘bogler’s ‘prentice’, she is, and doesn’t need rescuing by Mrs. Eames – but all bogler’s apprentices grow up – and I cant wait to read what Birdie and her friends get up to in the next book A Very Peculiar Plague.
My Rating: 4 stars
Author Bio: Catherine Jinks was born in Brisbane, Australia in 1963. She grew up in Papua New Guinea and later studied medieval history at the University of Sydney. After working for several years in a bank, she married Peter Dockrill, a Canadian journalist, and lived for a short time in Nova Scotia, Canada. She is now a full-time writer, residing in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales with Peter and their daughter Hannah. Catherine is a three-time winner of the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year award, and has also won a Victorian Premier’s Literature Award, the Adelaide Festival Award for Literature, the Ena Noel Award for Children’s Literature and an Aurealis Award for Science Fiction. In 2001 she was presented with a Centenary Medal for her contribution to Australian Children’s Literature.
This book is reviewed as part of the Australian Women Writers challenge – Join the challenge here.