Thank you to Bethany Carter and Faber Children’s for inviting me to be part of the Blog Tour for Carnival of the Lost. Today, I’ll be sharing my review and an exciting writing prompt from Kieran which I couldn’t resist having a go at doing!
Carnival of the Lost is a dark, richly atmospheric and thrilling mystery set in a shadowy Victorian London that completely gripped me, and took me on an incredible action-packed adventure brimming with danger, excitement and intrigue.
Sheba the Wolf Girl spends the majority of her time locked in a cage at a seaside curiosity show on the South Coast having been bought from an orphanage, and put on display for customers. When she is sold to Plumpscuttle, she finds herself welcomed by an extraordinary group of performers – Gigantus, Sister Moon, Pyewacket and Mama Rat – and taken to the East End of London as part of her new owner’s carnival troupe.
On her first night at the Carnival of the Lost, she meets a young mudlark, Till, who shows her kindness, so when she discovers that Till has gone missing, she is determined to find her, and the other young mudlarks who have also been taken. Could their disappearance have anything to do with sightings of a strange mechanical monster?
Together with her found family, Sheba begins a search, a search that will take them from the mudbanks of the River Thames, to a workshop aboard a warship to the Crystal Palace. This brave, resourceful and unique group will face grave danger, make incredible discoveries and uncover a macabre plan … will they be able to solve the mystery and save the lost children that have been forgotten by all but their parents?
This is a real page-turner that kept me on the edge of my seat throughout as I was taken on a rollercoaster of emotions; swept into the fast-paced, rapidly flowing action, and becoming completely invested in what happened to the troupe and the missing children. With elements of gothic horror, a vivid portrayal of the murkier side of Victorian Society and terrifying villains, I was completely engrossed in this mystery.
This adventure has lots of important messages relating to how the poor lived and were treated in Victorian London; forms of mass entertainment; popular culture; the effects of industrialisation; and, the interest in anthropology and technology. This really immerses the reader in this period of history and gives plenty of opportunity for discussion.
But you really shouldn’t judge people by how they look, …
Those better off should always try to help the less fortunate.
At the heart of this story for me are the carnival troupe. They are a fiercely loyal family who readily accept each other’s uniqueness. They are talented, resourceful and have such a wonderful camaraderie. I especially enjoyed Pyewacket’s sharp sense of humour. Although, they are judged by society to be misfits, treated like monsters and forced by cruel owners to perform for entertainment and profit, this courageous family are a lesson to others in what it means to not judge by appearance, to accept difference, to be empathetic and to be true to yourself. They turn a mirror on society: who are the real monsters?
The full-page, grayscale illustrations are absolutely stunning and complement the mood of the story perfectly.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Kieran Larwood is a master storyteller. He draws the reader wholeheartedly into the world he creates, and makes them care so much for the heroes he brings to life as he takes them on a heart-pounding adventure that brings danger, twists and hope. I can’t wait to continue this remarkable adventure with this wonderful family who I’ve taken into my heart.
WRITING PROMPT from Kieran Larwood
Think of a character with a unique ability, trapped in a Victorian sideshow. What powers do they have and how can they use them to escape? What sights, scenes (and smells) from Victorian London would your character experience?
As a teacher, I love writing with my class, so couldn’t resist having a go at this prompt. After half-term, I’m keen for my class to have a go too!
Fear choked Meera as she was thrown roughly into the cage, the door slamming viciously against her scarred back, drawing flecks of blood through the scales. Just half an hour before, she had been close to snitching a loaf of bread, but had felt a sudden sharp sting in her neck, and now she was trapped in this prison.
An overpowering stench of stale sweat assaulted her as someone approached the cage, the sound of a stick tap, tap, tapping irritably against the cobbles.
“’Tis a stroke of luck that I found ye. Ne’er thought I’d see the like. Ye’ll fetch me a pretty penny when I shows ye.”
Thick, grubby fingers, with a blackened thumbnail, grasped the bars and cold, grey eyes stared greedily. The man pulled something from his pocket, and flung it into the cage. Like a frightened colt, Meera scrabbled to the back and sank to her knees, trembling uncontrollably.
“Suit yerself. I’ll not be givin’ ye anymore ‘til that’s gone!”
As he turned and left, Graspernin kicked a pail over, a stream of water flowing into the cage.
Twisting her head slightly to the side, Meera saw what had been thrown: a lump of stale bread with a pool of mould beginning to form on its tiny craters. Hunger forced her fingers toward the bread, and hunger demanded that she eat.
She had to be gone before her captor returned. How could he have known that in knocking the pail over, he had given her just what she needed to escape. She inched towards the damp straw, lowering her back into its soothing coolness, feeling her scales smoothen and her limbs soften. Crawling to the door of the cage, Meera grasped the bars, twisted her shoulder sideways and forced her arm through, feeling her bones melt and flow as she slowly and carefully twisted and turned, as fluidly as a ballerina, until she was no longer inside. She sank to the ground and waited; as her skin dried, her scales returned and her bones solidified. Tiredness overcame her.
A sudden tapping brought her to instant wakefulness. Meera sprang to her feet, stretched her limbs and took off towards her home: the sewers.
Do check out the other stops of the Blog Tour: