YA adventure in Revolutionary France

Blade and Bone by Catherine Johnson

blade-boneThis book was published to coincide with October’s Black History Month, so I fear my review is a little late, however, better late than never and this was a YA book well worth reading. Blade and Bone is the sequel to Sawbones which is where we would have first met Ezra McAdam, a mulatto boy take  from the West Indies and raised as an apprentice to a London surgeon rather than as a slave.

In Sawbones, Ezra was 16 and got mixed up in investigating the death of the magician Finch, whose daughter Loveday becomes his dearest friend. The plot ends up at the Ottoman embassy, which is presumably where they meet the young prince Mahmoud, heir to the Ottoman throne and the target of kidnappers. Since then, Ezra’s patron has died leaving his anatomy school to Ezra.

In order to claim his throne, Mahmoud needs to return home; but he is missing and Loveday is stranded in Paris, “and English girl alone in France in the midst of the revolution…”  Ezra is on his way to help – however as Blade and Bone starts, he is detained near Lille, lending his surgical skills to the ‘American Regiment’ at the request of Colonel Dumas.

Despite the name, most men of the American Regiment had never actually seen America. In France, Ezra had learnt, “American” was the term for all people of colour, and the regiment comprised men from the Caribbean as well as French-born soldiers, plus a few actual Americans. There were also ink-dark Africans and almost white quadroons, mulattos of every shade and mixture – all bound together to fight for freedom. (p11)

Although they would have him stay, Ezra is released to make his way to Paris, where he has also arranged to meet some French surgeons, Citizens Bichat and Figaud – but all they can talk about are the experiments that another young surgeon, Citizen Renaud, is carrying out. Renaud worked under the Italian Galvani who famously applied electricity to frogs legs to make them jump. Now Renaud is taking it a step further, convinced that he can keep the souls of freshly severed heads from the guillotine alive with electricity. Ezra is repulsed by Renaud’s barbaric and ghoulish reanimation experiments, but it doesn’t do to criticise the Citizens!

He still has to find Loveday and Mahmoud though, and deal with many French lowlifes that are out to get them. There’s no resting on his surgical laurels, he gets stuck in to finding Loveday and rescuing Mahmoud. Loveday is a sparky and independent young lady who reminded me of a posher Cat Royal from Julia Golding’s The Diamond of Drury Lane. Every feisty young heroine needs a foil to rescue her and Ezra will later effect a daring escape from prison for her, where he is dismayed at the unsanitary conditions.

This is a novel of adventure and medicine, hugely enjoyable, although I wish I had read Sawbones first. In a nice touch, Ezra will take Luc, a boy from the Parisian streets who loses his foot to sepsis back to London with him. The epilogue ties up the ends neatly, so it doesn’t appear that there will be a third outing for Ezra and Loveday. The historical setting and details were great and will appeal to any teen who is a fan of Les Mis; it’s probably better to read Sawbones first though. (8/10)

Source: Publisher – thank you.

Catherine Johnson, Blade and Bone (Walker Books, Oct 2016) paperback original, 240 pages

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