It is the fourteenth of August, 1601. The city of London is teeming with life: urban traders are selling their wares, street urchins are begging for money and the River Thames is heaving with water boats hugger-muggering against one another. But the 1600s are also a time of dark magic – of experimental arts and alchemy – and the buzz and thrum of the city is under threat. This is Jeanette Winterson’s second novel for children and like the award-winning Tanglewreck which came before it, it muddles the notion of linear time and destabilises any fixed ideas about a straightforward, knowable reality.
On the fourteenth of August 1601 Jack Snap turns twelve years old. On this day, a special power which has so far sat dormant inside him awakens and Jack, ‘the Radiant Boy’, becomes the only means by which an evil conjurer known as the Magus can complete his ‘Opus’ to turn the city of London into lifeless gold. Jack will not submit to the Magus’s wishes without a fight and determined to save himself and the other boys trapped in the Magus’s Dark House, he begins to open his mind to the idea that things are not always what they might seem: liquid water can be quite dry to touch and raging fire can be freezing cold; people can exist in halves or in multiples and in the same way that thoughts are made, they can be unmade too.
In the intricate labyrinth of “highways and byways” which made up 17th century London, Winterson sets a novel of extreme inventiveness, temporal contortions and fantastical adventure. This is not one for the imaginatively faint-hearted: readers must also open their minds to dragons, magic and metamorphosis. The novel is a sprawling 388 pages but a pacey plot and relatively short chapter breaks makes it an ideal read for those gutsy enough to give it a go!
Lydia Mihailovic, literary editorSEND YOUR REVIEWS