By Philip Pullman
Published by David Fickling Books
ISBN 978 0 857 56022 3
Philip Pullman is one of the most highly acclaimed children's authors of our time. He has won many prizes for his novels, and his trilogy of fantasy adventures, His Dark Materials, is up there with Lord of the Rings among modern classics.
The latest book from Pullman is in fact a reissue of two short novels he wrote back in the mid-90s and which perhaps did not gain enough attention because of the shadow cast by his more famous works. The Adventures of the New Cut Gang is a new dual-novel publication featuring a motley band of Victorian street urchins who fancy themselves as amateur detectives.
Originally Pullman intended to write a whole sequence of New Cut Gang stories, but got sidetracked by the massive demands of His Dark Materials. The Adventures of the New Cut Gang couldn't be further away from the heavy fantasy of Pullman's masterwork. Here are two thrilling, touching and gloriously funny stories about a gang of winning kids in Victorian London. Wonderful new artwork by Martin Brown helps bring Pullman's characters to life and makes the book something of a special event.
Let's meet the New Cut Gang, a ragtag group of kids who live in the Lambeth district of London in 1894.
We have Benny, who has a very fertile imagination that sometimes lands him and his friends in deep trouble. Thunderbolt is a steady and studious teen who has common sense in most things but who appreciates a bit of adventure now and again. Bridie is a hot-tempered Irish redhead who looks after the others and gets them out of scrapes. Her young brother, Sharky Bob, tags along behind the older gang members, eating everything he can lay his hands on. The gang is completed by the Peretti twins, Angela and Zerlina, who look like sweet teenage angels but who really have characters of steel.
Pullman obviously feels great affection for each member of the New Cut Gang, and this shows in the great individuality he gives to each of these wonderful characters. The Adventures of the New Cut Gang is as much about character as it is about plot.
In Thunderbolt's Waxwork, the first of the two stories, the gang gets involved in tracking down the criminal behind a spate of counterfeit coins that suddenly
start to circulate around the businesses and shops in Lambeth. Thunderbolt's dad is arrested as a suspect, and this spurs the kids on to solving the mystery.
The Gas-Fitter's Ball sees the gang tracking the thief who has stolen a hoard of silver from the district gasworks' premises. Can the New Cut Gang solve both crimes before the police do? Of course they can, and it's great fun following them every step of the way.
After meeting the New Cut Gang in these two adventures, fans will be hoping that Pullman finds time to pen more stories involving these kids. There's no news on this at the moment, but fingers crossed!
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com