Author: Lucy Jago
Release date: 3rd May 2010 UK (TODAY!!!)
Genre: Historical Fiction
Target audience: 12+
Summary from Amazon:
Cess works caring for the chickens at Montacute House but on her thirteenth birthday everything changes. She finds a precious locket hidden in the chicken coop and is convinced someone has placed it there for her to find. But the day is overshadowed by fear as a boy's body is found by the river, and then when William disappears, Cess is accused by the villagers of bewitching her best friend. Cess is determined to find William and prove the villagers wrong, but is soon embroiled in a plot that threatens her world and forces Cess to draw on powers she never knew she possessed, powers that will place her life in danger if they are discovered by the villagers. Witchcraft, politics and religious ambition combine in this gripping and wonderfully realised novel set in the Somerset of the 1500s.
Montacute House opens with a most shocking discovery. The corpse of an unknown boy is found by the river. There are whisperings among the villagers of Montacute. Did the boy die of the Sweat? How did his body come to be so far from home? The mystery wraps around the folks and the Parson is excited by the possibility that Witchcraft is involved. The Parson has a thirst for hunting witches and a mission to constantly remind the villagers that they are all sinners. Our heroine is Cecily. She is an outcast in the village being born out of wedlock and is thus scorned by all except her mother and her friend William. He too is an object of the villagers' hatred. Poor William has the Devil's mark according to the folks of Montacute and so they stay well away from him.
Set during the reign of Elizabeth I, Montacute House explores the growing conflict between the Protestants and Catholics. It also examines the persecution of witches and explores Paganism. There is a touch of historical fantasy to this book but it didn't make it feel any less real. The story felt like a glimpse into the past and it was fascinating.
Cecily (or Cess as she is more often known) works on the Montacute estate as the poultry girl. She looks after the hens, collects the eggs and keeps to herself. Cess is a determined, earthy and somewhat stubborn girl who has firm ideas of right and wrong. Sadly, she does not always know when to hold her tongue and as the lowest of the low in the social hierachy this can equate to a curse. William is a quiet boy who is easy to like. Cess is distraught when William is taken. He is not the first local boy to disappear. Cess refuses to believe that William ran away and sets out to rescue him. Cess is a law unto herself. There are many other interesting characters in this book. So many of them are guarding secrets and it gives the book an atmosphere of suspicion.
The plot in this story moved at a fairly slow place. It did hold my attention as there were so many mysteries to be solved and so much authenticity to the period. I loved the way the author explored the relationships between the villagers. I loved the depiction of the House with all its secrets. However, there were times when I felt the author was telling me too much. You know that writing cliche people say: "Show, don't tell". Well, that was how I felt a couple of times reading this book. I wanted to work it out for myself and felt in conflict with the author because I wasn't given the opportunity to do this.
Overall, I think Lucy Jago's debut novel is a worthy addition to the YA historical fiction genre. It will appeal to fans of Pat Walsh's The Crowfield Curse and Kevin Crossley-Holland's Gatty's Tale and Arthur series. I certainly look forward to reading more books by this author.
Thank you to Bloomsbury for sending me the book for review.