By Lucy Jago
Published by Bloomsbury
ISBN 978 0 7475 9795 7
Lucy Jago has written a couple of non-fiction titles for adults, but Montacute House is her first novel for teen readers.
Jago is a careful and imaginative writer, and her debut youth fiction novel is a compelling story. It revolves around witchcraft, mystery and political ambition set in the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1 (1533 - 1603), an age that fascinates writers of historical fiction.
Montacute House, the grand, newly-built residence of Sir Edward Mortain, is at the centre of Jago's novel. But the main character is Cess Perryn, a village girl who works on Montacute Estate as a lowly poultry keeper.
Cess and her mother are outcasts in the village, and they struggle to exist. The villagers look down on them because Cess' mother was not married when she gave birth, and she has never revealed the name of her daughter's father.
This is the first mystery that Jago throws into the story. Cess and her mother are good people, but even their family members shun them. Cess knows that if she puts a foot wrong, she will lose her job on the poultry farm.
Her only friend is William, another village outcast because he is a cripple.
As Cess approaches her 13th birthday, a series of seemingly unrelated events changes her life. On her birthday, she finds a valuable necklace and locket in one of the chicken coops, and decides to keep it. Who put it there? But the necklace is forgotten as excitement grips the village when the body of a young boy is discovered on the banks of the river. The boy's body is blackened and bruised, and the village elders are at a loss as to who or what could have inflicted such terrible injuries. The mystery deepens when nobody can identify the boy. Who is he, and why was he killed?
When William suddenly disappears, Cess fears that her only friend, too, will be found dead. She makes up her mind to search for him before any murderer can get to him.
She knows that William would not have gone off without telling her. Something evil is stalking the village.
Cess is a reluctant heroine, but she does what any spirited young girl of her age would do, and tries her best to discover what is happening. She has no idea where she is going, and soon the innocent young girl is caught up in a world of witchcraft, greed, political ambition and treachery.
Montacute House, standing proudly in its beautiful grounds, is not what it seems. It is a place that holds many nasty secrets, and Cess does not know the dangers she will face as the house draws her in.
Montacute House mixes whodunnit elements and the supernatural with a fascinating picture of life in Elizabethan England. It is a gripping read for anyone who enjoys tense historical mysteries.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com