Thursday, 5 April 2012

Review: Black Arts by Andrew Prentice & Jonathan Weil

Happy Release Day! This book is available from today, so go out and snag your copy!

A huge thank you to Harriet at Random House for sending me a copy and coaxing me past my cover aversion.

Elizabethan London: a teeming city of traders and thieves, courtiers and preachers, riff-raff and quality, cut-throats - and demons. When scrunty Jack the 'Judicious Nipper' picks the wrong pocket at the Globe Theatre, he finds himself mixed up in an altogether more dangerous London than he could have imagined - a city in which magic is real and deadly.
An outbreak of devil-worship has led to a wave of anti-witch fervor whipped up by the Elect, a mysterious group of Puritans recognizable from their red-stained right hands, led by the charismatic Nicholas Webb, a growing power at Court. Rumour has it that he wants to purge the city entirely and build a New Jerusalem. Jack has his own reason for hating him: he saw him kill his mother.
Helped by Beth Sharkwell the Thief Princess of Lambeth, Kit Morely the Intelligencer and Dr Dee the Queen's Wizard, Jack pits himself against Webb's Puritans. But this is no straightforward struggle. Things are not as they seem. In fact, ever since his encounter with Webb, there has been something wrong with Jack's vision. He keeps seeing things. Demons.

The phrase ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ should be used liberally around me. I’m terrible at it – it’s not the be all and end all on whether I’ll read the book, but it does usually form a fairly strong impression and guide me on whether I look further. Which is exactly what I did with this one. Sorry but I really, really dislike this cover. I took one look and decided I couldn’t possibly be interested. But then the lovely people at Random house started talking about the book, about the plot and the characters and the world and I grudgingly started to accept that actually yeah ok, it sounded like quite a good book. I would be a good girl, I would put my cover doubts aside and give it a shot.

And you know what? Best decision ever.
I absolutely loved this book. The prologue was a bit weird and mildly off putting (unless you’re into ritual sacrifices in which case you’ll love it…) but I carried on – three chapters then bust, that’s my motto. But I never really noticed where the three chapter mark came because I was so completely engrossed in the story.

Jack is a clever, amusing, highly intelligent pick-pocket, thief, lock picker – you name it, he could probably give it a go and rob you blind. His voice was clear and distinct and I immediately felt a connection with him. I wanted to find out what his test/interview was about. I wanted to know about this world he lived in. It was fascinating and engrossing and utterly brilliant.

Prentice and Weil are a dream team – rivalled only, in my eyes, by Sarah Rees Brennan and Justine Larbalestier who are utterly brilliant, but more on them in a later review… The writing is seamless, brilliant and so incredibly realistic for the time. There were bits I didn’t understand, language that was completely alien to me, but it was right for the time period, and where it was harder to interpret they manage to weave in a subtle hint to give modern readers a poke in the right direction. It made me feel like I was really there in London, with the muck and the smell and the poverty and the riches. Everything was so well researched, so well described, it put me down straight in the middle of Jack’s world and left me there for the next five hundred pages.

It’s a long novel, and at times I looked at it and wondered what on earth could be going to happen that it needed that much more book to get there. But it is a mark of just how good the writing is that I didn’t actually mind the length at all. Usually there’s a down period somewhere in the middle of long books where the reader’s interest isn’t held quite so attentively – not so for this book. It takes its time. It builds the world and the characters so that you really care about them when it all comes to a head. It sets everything up, slowly weaving a web and taking its time. And I loved that. I like a book that has the confidence to take its time and really sell the world and the plot to me.

And the plot… A seamless blend of realism and fantasy, of London in the Elizabethan era and a hell hole of demons and wizards. I loved the mystery of it as Jack tries to work out what on earth is going on. I love watching different character’s attitudes to the weird goings on – the hysteria that grips the city and whips it into a frenzy for the finale.

But most of all I loved Jack and Beth. Beth because she was strong, she was hard and determined and utterly fabulous. She could be anything she wanted, do anything she wanted and she was just such a fantastic character I would have read a whole book of just Beth.

And Jack because he was the heart and soul of the whole thing. A book of this length has to have a protagonist who can hold the reader, and Jack does it superbly. I loved his disbelief, his fear, his determination and pride and his selflessness when it came down to saving himself or saving others. I loved seeing how he grew from a young scared boy into a man and how the events and people shaped and changed him.

I would highly recommend this – a writing duo to watch out for as I believe this is the first book in a series… Both boys and girls will love it – it has a brilliant hero at its heart and a girl you can root for. Magic, demons, sorcery and thieves , one of the best books I’ve had the pleasure of reading this year.

1 comment:

  1. I will be honest! The cover put me off a little too. I have it to read so I may pick it up now. Thanks for a fab review.