The Curse of the Speckled Monster Book One: Graverobbers and Gallows

The Curse of the Speckled Monster Book One: Graverobbers and Gallows

The Curse of the Speckled Monster Book One: Graverobbers and Gallows
John Townsend

Scribo

ISBN 9781912233328

Cephas Catchpole is a young orphan in 19th century England, apprenticed as a chimney sweep to a cruel master. When he is mistaken for dead after an accidental fall and buried alive, he is rescued from his fate by two unwitting bodysnatchers. Against his will, Cephas finds himself drawn into the criminals shady underworld and begins to uncover a murderous conspiracy involving medical malpractice, his mysterious parentage and the dreaded speckled monster itself smallpox. This is a gripping and atmospheric Dickensian tale in two volumes for young readers, filled with suspense, humour and more twists than a hangman's noose.

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The Curse of the Speckled Monster Book One: Graverobbers and Gallows4/5

The Curse of the Speckled Monster Book One: Graverobbers and Gallows

John Townsend

Review

In this darkly comic tale that is set in the Nineteenth Century Dickensian world of orphans, hangmen and desperate poverty, young Cephas Catchpole has been enslaved to a cruel chimney sweep and forced to scramble up sooty chimneys.

With smallpox ravaging the country and affecting both rich and poor, Cephas stumbles across young Edith Brimstone and her mother who is badly scarred from the disease. So begins Cephas's fast-paced adventure as he travels headlong into a brutal world where dead bodies are dug up and sold for experimentation, where limbs are amputated without anaesthetic, and where the smallest of crimes can result in public flogging and humiliation - or even the dreaded gallows.

It is clear from the outset that innocent Cephas does not belong here. Not only does he struggle with the things that he is being asked to do, he also bears the tattoo of an unknown lady and this intriguing mystery runs throughout the story.

We see the full horrors of the time through the eyes of Cephas and at times I did wonder whether some more sensitive readers would be able to cope with the level of horror and brutality that are revealed in the story. However, fans of Lemony Snicket and Philip Ardagh's Eddie Dickens series will enjoy the dark humour of this tale.

I particularly enjoyed the addition of plenty of historical background to the period, with information about the orphan who inspired Dickens's Oliver Twist, key dates in this period and even extracts from recorded trials of the day. In summary: an engaging and fast-moving historical mystery, but not one for the fainthearted!

160 pages / Ages 9+ / Reviewed by Emily Marcuccilli, school librarian.

Reviewed by: Emily Marcuccilli