The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner is a dazzling historical novel for older children and young adults – and fair blew this forty-something adult away too. I absolutely loved it!
This is the Paris of the late 1780s, just before the revolution. Yann, a gypsy youth who has second sight, assists his friend and mentor, the dwarf Tetu behind the scenes of a magic show featuring a fortune-telling automaton in a private performance for the Marquis de Villeduval. In the audience, the evil Count Kalliovski, financier to the reckless overspenders in the French aristocracy. Kalliovski wants the automaton’s secret, but when he realises that he and Tetu have encountered each other before, shoots the dwarf – Yann escapes with the assistance of the Marquis’ unloved daughter Sido. Yann goes to London where contacts of Tetu – who turn out to be Sido’s aunt and uncle, take care of him and nurture him towards manhood. Meanwhile the essentially bankrupt Marquis betrothes Sido to the Count in exchange for writing off his debts. Then in 1789, the storming of the Bastille happens, Yann returns to France to see if Tetu is still alive and to try and rescue Sido from the clutches of the revolutionaries and Count Kalliovski – it will not be easy…
Above, you have just the briefest description of some of the events in this totally gripping story. It has everything that an adventure needs – a full cast of well-developed characters, good, bad and every shade inbetween; a setting from an exciting period of history; a plot full of murder, mystery and mayhem alongside a central romance entwined with the chase and quest to find out answers, all bound up with a tiny touch of magic. It careers breathlessly along through its 371 pages, never flagging, ensuring the reader comes with it.
My daughter and I have enjoyed Sally Gardner’s books for younger children too like Lucy Willow in which she shows a beautifully light touch with magic. In this novel for older readers, the gypsies’ abilities are so deftly handled that the fantastic element feels truly part of the story.
I will definitely be seeking out Gardner’s other historical novel for older children and young adults I, Coriander soon. If, as a younger reader you enjoyed the Cat Royal novels of Julia Golding, you’d love this one too. I really did enjoy reading this book. (10/10)
P.S. Just discovered a sequel is due out soon The Silver Blade: Bk. 2features the guillotine on the cover.