CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 19 . . . . May 26, 2006
The adventure of Becky and Jim begins in this fourth volume by Philip Pullman, subtitled, A Swashbuckling Victorian Thriller. The characters introduced in the previous volumes continue their adventures with Jim Taylor, who is employed by Sally Lockhart, now Sally Goldberg, taking one of the major roles. Rebecca Winter, the young teacher, is also a major character in this novel. The third major character is Miss Adelaide Bevan, a young British girl, who has recently married Rudolf, a prince from Razkavia, a small country in eastern Europe. Rudolf is in exile and fearful for his life.
Rebecca arrives to help her pupil learn German. Rebecca lives with her mother who is an illustrator and Razkavian refugee. Her father died when he was imprisoned as a political prisoner when she was two. Her mother and grandmother escaped with Becky to England. The prince is living under an assumed name and has married Adelaide in secret. Shortly after her arrival at the house, a bomb goes off near the Rudolf's carriage. Jim, the young man in the straw boater, is on hand to help Rudolf. When news comes later of the death of Rudolf's older brother and heir to the throne, Rudolf must return to his native land even though his life will be in danger.
Rudolf and Adelaide ask Becky and Jim to accompany them and help them sort out the situation in Razkavia. Once there, Adelaide must learn the role of a princess, and together they try and sort through the intrigue in the palace and decide who can be trusted. Shortly after their arrival, the king dies after endorsing his young son and his bride. When Rudolf is shot at his coronation and the eagle flag must be flown or Razkavia will no longer be free, Adelaide steps up and shows that she is worthy to be queen. Both Austria-Hungary and Germany want to take over Razkavia for its nickel mines. There is an added subplot when it is realized that Rudolf's older brother, Leopold, is not dead and his Spanish wife, who was not accepted by the King, is at large and is dangerous.
The plot is a political thriller, mystery, adventure and historical fiction novel all in one. As the characters work together to save Razkavia, they do not know who is against them and who can be trusted. Adelaide and Jim have a strong connection as they realize they have known each other previously in an earlier adventure. After their escape, Adelaide disappears, and Jim has had no knowledge of her whereabouts until now. The characters are realistic to the time and place. They show courage and daring, yet remain true to what is expected. We see their struggle to survive against odds which are not known to them. Characters from the other volumes are present although not in major roles in this adventure. They are changing and growing as time passes.
The dialogue and description are very well done. They are suitable for the intended audience. The word choice brings the setting alive with local colour. The Victorian setting is interesting for the reader. The situation in eastern Europe is also appropriate and realistic.
As in previous adventures, the reader cares about the characters and wants them to succeed. The intended audience would be middle years and up. It is an excellent choice for school, public and home libraries. I would highly recommend this book.
Deborah Mervold, who lives in Shellbrook , SK, is a retired teacher-librarian, educator and Resource Based Learning Consultant.
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