Tuesday, 12 September 2017

The Ravenmaster's Boy by Mary Hoffman

review by Maryom

When his parents die of the plague, Kit is taken in by the Ravenmaster at the Tower of London. Growing up with, handling and feeding the birds in his adoptive father's charge, Kit discovers he has a unique gift - to actually communicate with the ravens. When a new prisoner arrives at the Tower, Kit decides he should put his skill to use, for his sympathies lie with this new 'inmate', King Henry's wife, Anne Boleyn. Only a few years before, the king divorced his first wife in order to marry Anne, but now, with no son to inherit his throne, Henry is starting to look for a new wife, and a way to rid himself of his current one. Kit can't do much to save Anne but with the help of the ravens, he can pass messages for her beyond the Tower's forbidding walls. Dabbling in the King's affairs is a dangerous game, though, and Kit begins to realise that he may have got too involved in events beyond his control ...

Aimed at teen and YA readers, The Ravenmaster's Boy is an excellent blend of historical fact and compelling story, with an additional touch of magic in Kit's ability to talk to the ravens.
As all good historical fiction should, The Ravenmaster's Boy brings the past to life without stopping to lecture the reader. I've always found that history can be rather dull unless you can imagine the people involved, start to understand their hopes and fears, decide whether you'd side with them, or against - and while Anne and King Henry will probably be familiar from history lessons here they're 'fleshed out'; real people whose lives are no longer a string of facts and dates, but a gripping 'true life' drama.
Although the story is partly that of Anne, her imprisonment and trial, it's also about Kit, an average boy with an unusual talent - and a truly gripping story it is! Living in the Tower of London, he's seen prisoners come and go before - some released, most heading only for the gallows - but something about the young queen makes him want to help her in her distress, and with him, the reader sneaks behind the scenes, shares Anne's private moments, and her public trial. An older person might have hesitated to help, knowing and fearing the consequences if discovered, but Kit is sixteen, a little smitten by the beautiful young queen, and doesn't hesitate. Too late, he begins to wonder where his actions might have led him and the friends who've helped him. So, yes, the reader will absorb historical facts along the way, but primarily they'll be pulled along by the story, wanting to know how things turn out for Kit.
Although (obviously) it's aimed at a young audience, I really enjoyed it, and, considering I've never really sympathised with her, was just slightly surprised to find my attitude changing towards Anne.

The ravens of the Tower of London are legendary themselves - stories say that if the birds ever desert the Tower, the city of London will fall; the keepers make sure they never do, by clipping the birds' wings, and limiting their flight!

Maryom's review - 5 stars 
Publisher - The Greystones Press 
Genre - teen/YA historical fiction 

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