These Dark Wings (Ravenmaster Trilogy) ( Ages 11+ )
By : John Owen Theobald
Publisher : Head of Zeus ( Feb., 2016)
Anna Cooper is an orphaned twelve year old girl; her mother was killed in the Blitz ( it is believed that her father died in the North Sea). She is sent to live with her uncle, whom she never knew of, and he is the "Ravenmaster" in the Tower of London. Ravens are important, she was told, especially with Hitler trooping up on the other side of the channel. "If the Ravens leave, the kingdom will fall"
John Owen Theobald with his story takes us seventy five years backwards and further into the cold, dark and gloomy Bloody Tower, to a war torn era where Nazis were shedding blood all over London.
It is narrated in the words of Anna who is naive but courageous. She is deeply saddened, lonely and distressed about having to live in a mysterious Tower where many secrets are held and under the scrutinizing eyes of the Tower Warders. At the beginning the Ravens were her only companions, and she feels imprisoned rather than protected. Readers are reminded again and again about these tragic circumstances of Anna and through her, the tragedy of war. The author`s brilliant literal descriptions are clever enough to imprison the reader with Anna in the Tower of London.
Theobald is deglorifying Churchil`s war in the context of how it affected the fates of thousands of children and women, revealing every bit of it through Anna`s eyes. A war may not be explored with children beyond it`s glories, heroism and the utter suffering of those affected. What is above that is naturally a grownup`s business. The author seemingly has recognized these intellectual constrains in creating his story so cleverly, while being generously informative. Young readers will get to learn a lot about war-torn England during the second world war and about the history of Tower of London, but through an astonishingly chilling work of fiction!
His powers of imagination are quite apparent as he describes the almost seventy-five years old war. "Fire rains from the sky./ Torches rise from the city to greet it./ Everything is lit,the flames beacons for further destruction./ The fire`s own wind churns up glass and sparks./ Below us roars a huge semicircle of fires / London bubbles and smokes,like a pot of boiling stew."
The story picks up it`s pace slowly, building up curiosity at every page-turn and then turning into fast-paced fiction. Anna finds the tower life mysterious, with one Raven missing and another one killed and left in the tower premises. She overhears suspicious conversations about her parents. She wants to find the truth about everything; what happened to Mabel (a Raven) and is there a spy in the Tower? Who is the German who came to meet Warder Yeoman Oakes at Traitor`s Gate in the night? What actually did happen to her mother? With many unanswered questions in her mind, she faces her dreadful days ahead as the war heightens and more bombs fall, spending many nights in the shelter with the stench of reeking urine and feeling cold. Amongst all with rationed food she feels hungry all the time.
Anna`s classmate from the Tower school and "Partner in crime" Timothy Squire brings light to her life as they occasionally creep out of the Tower and explore the city and it`s debris together. They spend more and more time together, wandering around, telling tales, feeding Ravens and worrying about their futures and lives, as some of their classmates die and get injured in air raids. Anna gradually becomes attracted to Timothy who, in those gloomy days is her only ray of hope and happiness.
Theobald`s character development, text and his use of language is astounding. At one point when Anna meets Timothy Squire after a separation of several months, it is written "I walk the steps ,unsure. A man in a tweed blazer and hat stands at the west gate / He leans on an umbrella / For a second I`m reminded of Churchill,the first day he came to visit./ This man is tall, and much thinner than the prime minister / As I step closer I realize it is not a man at all / It is a boy/ In his time away he appears to have grown,his cheeks ruddy from the country./ My smile is huge and wide and probably terrifying."
The story comes to an end in a high note, which is also the beginning of the next installment of the series," These Dark Wings"
(With many thanks to Head of Zeus and Net Galley for the ARC in return for a honest review)