When a petty thief falls through a glass roof while fleeing from the police, it should have been the death of him. Instead, it marks the beginning of a whole new life. Soon he has become the most successful - and elusive - burglar in Victorian London, plotting daring raids and using London's new sewer system to escape. He adopts a dual existence to fit his new lifestyle, taking on the roles of a respectable, wealthy gentleman named Montmorency and his corrupt servant, Scarper.
I first read this book as part of the first year of the Southern Schools Book Award (voted for and awarded by secondary students, such as myself). Montmorency
(deservedly) won in this exciting inaugural year. I was fortunate enough to meet Eleanor Updale herself on this occasion (and on several others after that), and she is one of the loveliest people I've ever met. Also, she always remembers me (probably because my lovely friends were threatening my life over a character I was planning on killing off), which is the most awesome thing ever!
But that's by the by. Even if I hadn't
met Eleanor Updale, I would still be giving this book five stars?
Well, there's many things that I love about this book.
For starters, it's one of the few children's/young adult's books I've read with an adult protagonist and, in fact, an entirely adult cast. And it works, for all that. Montmorency (also known as Scarper, or Prisoner 493) is a complex and interesting character, and despite the fact he's a criminal, I really find myself wanting him to succeed. I guess in part this is because he develops a conscience as the book goes on. Things are not black and white, Montmorency least of all!
I love how Montmorency and Scarper almost feel like two different people, but still have aspects of the same man. Scarper is not a very nice human being, but he's quite useful for solving problems Montmorency can't. What I find really interesting is the fact that Montmorency, even when he has enough money to not
go stealing, still has the urge. This made it quite realistic for me. Montmorency does not have a seamless transition into the life of a gentleman. He needs things like the opera and top hats explained to him, for example.
To this end, quite a lot of Scarper's adventures in the sewers are not described, just mentioned after the fact. (Except for the climax, the very first trip, and one other adventure where he completely underestimates the dangers of the sewer.) This keeps Montmorency and Scarper a lot more separate, which is useful. The book is about Montmorency's quest to become a gentleman, not an endless string of night sewer raids. But there is enough of Scarper in the novel that the sewer raids don't feel left out!
And I also love that Montmorency's unsavoury past comes in useful for much more legitimate ventures, too.
Also, there is no hint of romance in the book, which makes a nice change. (Apart from the unwanted attentions of Cissy, haha. But I don't count that as 'romance'.)
This could be classed as a middle grade book, but on the older end of the spectrum. I also think the young adult market would appreciate this book, so this is one of those novels that sits quite nicely on the cusp of both markets.
The book ends with Montmorency nicely placed for a sequel. In fact, there are three (and promises of a fifth Montmorency novel... *crosses fingers*).
If you enjoy young adult fiction but are looking for something a bit different, give this book a go. It's truly a wonderful experience.