Synopsis from Goodreads.
Set in Mary King’s Close, an exciting historical adventure featuring a young boy – Tom Afflick who finds himself transported from Edinburgh in 2012 and apprenticed to a plague doctor in Edinburgh in 1645. Young Tom Afflick has never felt so alone. His parents have split up and his mother has relocated him, hundreds of miles away from his home in Manchester to the unfamiliar city of Edinburgh. At his new school, Tom is simply known as ‘The Manc’ – a blow-in, an outsider.
On a routine school trip to the historic site of Mary King’s Close, Tom follows the ghostly figure of a young girl – only to find himself transported back in time to 1645, the year of the Edinburgh plague. Apprenticed against his will to a violent plague doctor, Tom needs to use all of his modern-day skills in order to survive, while he desperately searches for a way back to his own time.
So this book was interesting, in both meanings of the word.
Um, OK, there’s probably only one official meaning for ‘interesting’ but to me there’s two.
Let’s split this review up, shall we?
Part One: This book was interesting!
Edinburgh is my favourite city in the world. (We’re not counting Manchester because that city’s in my blood). I love every single thing about it. The fact that it’s packed with history and castles and culture and gorgeous accents and STORIES OF BLOODY MOIDOR.
OK fine, we’re not talking about Glasgow but we’re in Scotland and it’s just way too tempting to say ‘moidor’.
Anywhoo… I love Edinburgh. It’s my kind of city so when I get the chance to read a book that’s set there, I’m all over it like batter on a Mars Bar.
And Mr Caveney has obviously done his research because reading this book is like taking a trip down the cobbled closes that twist off the Royal Mile. Seeing as there’s this rule against YA books set in Manchester, I rarely get to read stories that are set in places that I know so it was such a pleasure to read Crow Boy which is set in possibly my favourite place in Edinburgh, Mary King’s Close.
I won’t witter on too much about the history of the place (find out more here) but I’ve been twice and I’ve listened to the ghost stories and had a stuffed rat thrown at me (seriously) and been confused why someone would leave a Westlife CD for a ghost in Annie’s room. Oh and I’ve also got two awkward ‘in-ride’ photos of me standing with strangers on a dark cobbled Close. Because everyone needs two of them.
I love it.
And Mr Caveney perfectly encapsulated the fascinating history and ambience of the place without being too much like he was writing a history book. I’m always on the lookout for historical YA (and I guess we can include this one as historical, especially if you don’t know much about the Plague and whatnot) that aren’t set in the same-old-same-old eras. This book is a nice murky, sewage-filled, rat-chomping, flea-infested romp into a fascinating page of British history that not many people may know about.
Part Two: This book was interesting.
(Please note the italics. Oh and there are slithers of spoilers in this… kinda. Just keep your eyes peeled.)
One of the first things I learnt about writing, and this is waaaaay back when I was in year four of primary school and I wrote a story about a girl who went to stay with her two mysterious aunts (Sabrina? Sabrina who?), was that you should always show not tell.
But actually that’s completely irreverent because I’m going to talk about the second thing I learnt about writing.
SLIGHT SPOILERS… KIND OF.
Never, ever, on any occasion should you end a story with “and it was all a dream.”
I never understood why it was so bad before I read this book. And now I know it’s because it’s frustrating and sneaky. Now this book doesn’t end with “and it was all a dream” but there is definitely that kind of vibe.
This book left a lot of questions unanswered. And I wanted them to be answered, even if it was just an “Oh, Edinburgh is actually on a wormhole”. Hey, it could happen.
I think with a synopsis like this you have to either fully embrace that your character has gone back in time and write that book or… well, don’t. It sometimes felt that Mr Caveney was trying extremely hard to make it more than a book about a boy who goes back in time by adding all these overly clever tangents. And the story got a bit muddled and, unfortunately, so did I.
One minute we were in Now-Edinburgh and then we were in Then-Edinburgh and then we were in a parallel spin-off Manchester eating noodles in the Printworks.
And don’t get me started on the recurring characters that followed Tom across time-zones and borders. Is it Peter Pan where the dad plays Captain Hook? It reminded me a lot of that.
It felt like the time I discovered I was slightly allergic to morphine and everything went a bit mental and hallucinate-y.
That actually happened by the way.
So yeah… interesting.
This book was lots of fun and it was nice to see a YA book tell a bit of a different story in a unique and fascinating setting. If you’re able to ignore the strange blurry ideas and can focus on the characters and the historical side of things, I’d definitely give this a go!
Also, randomly, I love love LOVE the cover. So fantastic.