By SHARON GOSLING
A book review by Erin the Cat Princess©
Hello, and welcome to A Saturday HOT READ & REVIEW featuring Adventures in Middle-Grade Fiction!
Mrs H and I have been basking in the shade this last fortnight, enjoying a bit of downtime now that summer is here. As UK summers go quickly, we decided to let the grass get longer. Fear not, dear readers and fellow haymakers, I have Mrs H and the electric Flymo scheduled to mow the 14-acre field next weekend. The only problem is finding enough extension leads?
Anyways, it was just yesterday that we finished our latest HOT read. A sea and land based adventure that had us on the edge of our deckchairs right up to the very last pages. It was the perfect way to round off a lazy afternoon, and what now seems to be the last day of summer.
The author of this HOT read is Sharon Gosling, and she has a new kitten, called NEWT, who is utterly adorable! Follow Sharon and NEWT on TWITTER using the the twitter tag: @sharongosling
So, without further ado, I ask you to join me in The Extraordinary Voyage of Katy Willacott.
The Extraordinary Voyage of Katy Willacott, by SHARON GOSLING
Cover art and ship illustration by: Kristina Kiser
Published by: LITTLE TIGER GROUP
Publication date: 7 JULY 22
Paperback ISBN: 9781788954181
Cover price for Paperback: £7.99
Age range: Middle Grade (9-12 AND upwards)
Any dogs or cats? Yes, a fantastic and sleek black cat called Shadow.
The bare minimum to lay the plot and introduce characters.
We were lucky enough to be approved by Little Tiger Group to review this book for you.
The year is 1879.
The place, victorian London, England.
Our heroine, Katy Willacott is Mary’s daughter. Mary is a skilled and respected botanical taxonomist at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew. It is also where Granpa Ned works as a constable. Her father, Josiah, works as an assistant archaeologist for the British Museum. Together with Grandma Peg and elder brother Stefan, they live rent-free in the quaint but tiny Rose Cottage that belongs to Kew Gardens.
Katy helps her mother identify and catalogue new species of plants sent back by explorers from across the globe. It is an age when men do all the fun stuff like explore, and women are considered only suited to minor and apparently less skilled roles and running the home.
It is, however, not a life that Katy wants. She craves the adventures undertaken by daring women of the age. Women who journeyed to foreign lands and up the Amazon. Women like her heroine, adventurer and journalist, Francesca Brocklehurst, whose articles are published in all the newspapers.
Katy meets Fran when she comes to Kew Gardens to write about her mother, a notable woman in science. The interview is going swimmingly right up to the point where Sir Thomas Derby appears. He is overseeing the construction of the Natural History Museum. Having mistaken Katy’s mum for a cleaner, he then goes on to say how he means to have her work taken out of the hands of amateurs and that standards must have slipped so low as they were employing women. And that the female brain didn’t have the capacity for proper scientific reasoning.
The obnoxious, loathsome windbag that is Sir Thomas does rather set the scene and tone for things to come.
But when Katy learns that Sir Thomas is heading off on an expedition to locate and retrieve some fallen meteorites in Brazil, Katy resolves to join the ship’s crew. But not as Katy Willacott, but in disguise as a cabin boy called William Chandler.
Now, it would be remiss of me to tell you much more than she does manage to get on board Sir Thomas’s ship, the SS Alerte. From this point, the adventure takes a rollercoaster ride across the ocean to Salvador, Brazil, and into the jungle.
You will NOT be disappointed in what happens.
So, what did we think?
One girl fighting to break away from the ordinary, expected, mundane and perceived feeble-minded victorian woman’s role.
Running away from home and travelling across to Brazil to follow her heart and find a meteorite seems drastic. But that is what it took to be not just noticed as a woman back then but also to feel alive. Determination, bravery, and a sense of right are her tools. She makes mistakes, and we see as she sees the consequences of her actions. But we see also the good that comes from doing the right thing. Good karma is one way of looking at it; the spirit of the jungle is another.
The strength of the villain and supporting characters, from Sir Thomas to the Alerte’s captain to the natives in Salvador, is a delight. The tone and atmosphere infuse the pages with that special magic that means we get invested in the story and cry at the end.
The story has a solid ethical voice that is still relevant to this day, probably more so. Through the eyes of Katy Willacott, we get to explore the gender roles, values, and opportunities of the time. We see as she sees the result of greed, the rape of the land and appropriation of ‘specimens’ and plundering of resources by a colonial power irrespective of cost to the local peoples or environment.
This is such an empowering and entertaining story. A feast for the imagination in the same way as Emma Carroll’s book: Escape to the River Sea, which we will be reviewing shortly, and thoroughly enjoyed.
In fact, I would recommend them as worthy and happy bookshelf companions for the young reader with an eye on foreign travel and seeing women achieving in a time when women were expected not to.
As strong as the lessons in this fine book are, they do not overwhelm the story. It is 100% magic and is recommended for all.
So . . . .
Without a doubt, treat someone to this book when it comes out. Sharon Gosling is a skilled writer, and the observant reader will note some of her other MG characters appear in this book. Her first adult novel, The House Beneath the Cliffs, was published in 2021.
Want to buy a copy?
To get a copy, and there is absolutely NO need to run away to Brazil, just head to your local independent bookshop. There are plenty out there, and each is just waiting to serve up a treasure of literal magical resource, fun and adventure with a personal touch.
If any publishers wish us to review their books, please contact us. Details are listed on our book review page.
If anyone has a 1000 meter extension lead, please do leave your contact details in the comments and I’ll have Mrs H get back to you after she’s washed the dishes!
Until next week, I shall leave you with my customary selfie. Till Laters!