The Executioner's Daughter
By Jane Hardstaff
Published by Egmont
ISBN 978 1 4052 6828 8
During the reign of the English King Henry VIII (1509-47), the Tower of London was conveniently both a royal palace and a notorious prison. His Majesty didn't have far to send his enemies - and a couple of his wives - when he wanted them out of way. And while Henry was on the throne, the chief executioner at the Tower of London was kept very busy.
His daughter, 11-year-old Moss, is also kept very busy. Her job calls for a great deal of strength and cold courage - she has to pick up the severed head after an execution, and take it away in a wicker basket.
Plucky, courageous and stubborn, Moss hates her life (who wouldn't?) but she has no way of escaping to anything better or even less gruesome. Moss is the executioner's daughter and she has no choice but to assist him in his macabre profession.
Debut novelist Jane Hardstaff begins The Executioner's Daughter with a stunning opening chapter: we are there at the bloody execution of Sir Thomas More, once King Henry's best friend but now his enemy. Sir Thomas' head rolls, Moss puts it in her basket and we are hooked.
Moss has lived with her secretive father in the confines of the Tower of London since she was born. As she grows up, the two of them develop an uneasy relationship.
Her father always has told her that they are safe living in the confines of the Tower and that she should never think of leaving. But one day, Moss discovers a secret tunnel that leads through the thick stone walls, under the moat and onto the banks of the River Thames.
Moss knows all about the mighty and dangerous Thames, and she has heard of the Riverwitch who steals children, but she is more excited that she has found a way out of her prison.
On one trip through the tunnel, Moss meets a river boy called Salter, who tells her fascinating tales of his adventures on the shores of the Thames. Moss decides to disobey her over-protective father and make a bid for freedom. She has heard that her mother died at a place called Hampton Hill, and makes up her mind to find out more.
In the fogs hanging over the River Thames, a mysterious figure has been seen stalking the shores carrying a massive sack. Has Moss made a drastic mistake leaving her home in the Tower of London?
Hardstaff has a real talent for creating place and character, and she knows how to build a story. Highly recommended to fans of historical fiction - and anyone else.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com.