Today I’m on the blog tour for The White Phoenix by Catherine Randall, thanks to Kaleidoscopic Tours who gifted me a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
The White Phoenix is a historical MG book, set in London in 1666, so I was sold immediately, and I really enjoyed it. Lizzie is a character you can really root for, and I shared her frustrations at the people and world around her.
London, 1666. After the sudden death of her father, thirteen-year-old Lizzie Hopper and her mother must take over THE WHITE PHOENIX – the family bookshop in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral. But England is at war with France and dire prophecies abound. As rumours of invasion and plague spread, Lizzie battles prejudice, blackmail and mob violence to protect the bookshop she loves. When the Great Fire of London breaks out, Lizzie must rescue more than just the bookshop. Can she now save the friend she wasn’t supposed to have? CAN THE WHITE PHOENIX RISE FROM THE ASHES?
Bookshops, London and the Great Fire – what more could you want in your book?! I did genuinely find the subject matter very interesting – I’ve always been fascinated by the Great Fire of London, and it was good to see it from the point of view of someone deeply affected by it. I hadn’t particularly been aware of the situation in which it occurred, with England at war with France and a general wave of suspicion being directed at anyone foreign (although I knew the fire was believed by many to have been started as a Catholic plot), so I enjoyed learning something new too!
As I said above, Lizzie was a great lead character. Only thirteen, she finds herself trying to keep the family bookshop going after her father’s death, against a number of difficulties, not least Master Pedley, the bookbinder next door. Pedley is creepy from the get go, and I was praying that Lizzie’s mother would not be taken in by him!
I really liked the way Randall was able to make the story very relatable, despite being set nearly 400 years ago. The attitudes towards foreigners displayed by many people in the book are, sadly, still prevalent today, as are some of the attitudes towards women. For many of the people around the Hoppers in the book, it’s unthinkable that a woman should attempt to carry on her husband’s business. And to be caught binding a Catholic prayer book?! It’s made clear that Lizzie’s parents do not share these attitudes – as long as a person likes books, they are welcome in the bookshop – but the fact that they are willing to entertain Catholics is something that can be (and is) used against Lizzie and the shop. And while Catholics might not suffer in England in the 21st century, it’s easy to see the same prejudices aimed at other groups. I think The White Phoenix would make a great starting point for a discussion with children in the target age group.
I very much enjoyed the actual story too. Knowing that it was leading up to the Great Fire lent the book a great deal of tension, which was only made greater by Lizzie’s friendships with both a French customer and the apprentice next door, who got a bit too caught up in conspiracy theories. There’s genuine danger too, and not just from the fire, and I raced through the book very quickly as a result.
I definitely recommend The White Phoenix to anyone with an interest in history but also anyone who enjoys a good story, well told!
The White Phoenix is out today from The Book Guild