Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Diamond of Drury Lane - Julia Golding

Julia Golding's debut novel, The Diamond of Drury Lane was the winner of the Ottaker's Children's Book Prize 2006, and it seems to be well deserved.

The book's protagonist is Catherine (Cat to her friends) Royal who lives and works at Mr Sheridan's Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, London around 1790. As a baby Cat was abandoned on the doorstep of the theatre and Mr Sheridan adopted her; Cat has grown up backstage amidst the exotic artistes, the hammy actors, the musicians, scenery and backdrops of the theatre, avoiding its riotous audiences. The performers and stagehands make up her family and friends; her education was undertaken by the stage prompt, who has recently retired.

The book opens with Cat overhearing a conversation between Mr Sheridan and another man about a diamond that Mr Sheridan is going to hide somewhere in the theatre. She agrees to look after the treasure for Mr Sheridan when he catches her eavesdropping. Shortly afterwards, a talented young violinist named Pedro, who is a former slave, joins the company orchestra, hoping to earn enough money to become truly free. Her new teacher is the new stage prompt, a young man named Johnny, who seems to have a mysterious background.

Golding's narrative is set wholly in London and includes the rival street gangs of Covent Garden; boxing matches between her friend Syd the Butcher (head of one the Covent Garden gangs) and a youth intimidatingly named "The Camden Crusher"; a riotous theatre audience; a spectacular stage production that includes a hot air balloon; and encounters with young nobles such as Lady Elizabeth and her irrepressible brother. And all the time, there are people looking for the diamond that's hidden in the theatre, hoping that if they can find it, it will make them rich.

This was a fun and enjoyable book that was hard to put down. The historical setting is very well researched as Golding used material from her post-doctorate on the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, to create an authentic setting.

The sequel, Cat Among the Pigeons came out earlier this month and I must check the library for this one !


Anonymous said...

Have you read her other series, starting with "Secret of the Sirens"? When that came out all the 10 year olds on our street/local school were obsessed, it was faintly reminiscent of a new Harry Potter book.
The second in the series (a quartet) is now out, and though Jenny read it I got the impression it was not as compelling as Secret.

I also bought her the book you've reviewed here but, despite being very interested in theatre, she seems to have no interest in reading it. (She's now 11 and enjoying Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, she's on book 2).

Michele said...

Yes - you've even posted a comment on the review of The Secret of the Sirens ! The review of The Gorgon's Gaze is here.