A Very Unusual Pursuit by Catherine Jinks, paperback novel, 329 pages, published by Allen & Unwin in 2013.
Set in late nineteenth century London, this is the story of Birdie McAdam and her master, Alfred Bunce. Alfred is a bogler, a man that kills bogles, the monsters that infest the dark recesses of London and feed on children that stray too close. As his apprentice, Birdie acts as the bait to lure bogles from their lairs, so that Alfred can kill them. It is a hard and rough life for the young orphan, but it is what she knows and loves. Birdie’s life becomes more complicated when Edith Eames asks to witness a de-bogling, and can’t help but express her concern for Birdie’s safety and her reservations regarding Birdie’s role as bait. The leader of the local pickpocket gang, Sarah Pickles, is also interested in Birdie, though only for her own nefarious purposes. Several of Sarah’s lads have disappeared, perhaps consumed by a bogle. She requests that Alfred and Birdie investigate, so they embark upon their most dangerous job yet, where they might need help from some of the orphan boys, Jem and Ned, as well as Miss Eames.
This is the first book in the City of Orphans series by Catherine Jinks. A thrilling, fast-paced adventure in old-time London, this story is a mix of historical fiction and fantasy dealing with the mythical monsters known as bogles or bogeymen. The description of both locations and characters is wonderfully detailed allowing the reader to step into London as it was, and how it might have been with monsters lurking in chimneys, sewers and wells. The details of speech and clothing were particularly well written, appropriate for the time and place in which the story is set. There is a small glossary section at the end of the book to help with some of the terms that have fallen from common usage over the last century or so. This was an useful addition to the book.
I really liked Birdie, the tough orphan with the sweet voice. Her attitude, honesty and courage, and her intense loyalty to Alfred were endearing and maddening at the same time. I could definitely feel Miss Eames’ exasperation and concern with Birdie’s choices, but also her delight and respect for the child. I would have wanted to save her too.
I think A Very Unusual Pursuit would be most suitable for children in middle to upper primary school. Though, maybe not for children that are overly scared of monsters! I enjoyed this story so much, I immediately went out and bought the next two books in the series.
* A Very Unusual Pursuit was the winner of the 2014 Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year in the Younger Readers category.