Shakespeare’s London, as much as the young protagonist Pip, is at the centre of Lacey’s entertaining tale of a boy, a bear and a great city in which only the enterprising or the ruthless survive.
Pip lives in a village a few days’ walk from London; life is peaceful and unchanging there, and all that disrupts the evenness of his days is occasional speculation about who his father might have been and his dreams of becoming a famous fighter. Then, after his blacksmith stepfather is attacked by a gang of ruffians, he feels impelled to go to London to find out more about his natural father.
A new life opens up to him when he almost literally stumbles upon the Globe theatre and is enthralled by a production of Hamlet. Equally fortuitously, he acquires both some useful information and a bear. In the Globe, Pip meets the great theatre personalities of the day: Cuthbert and Richard Burbage, Robert Armin, Nathan Field, William Shakespeare. He also meets the members of the gang who attacked his stepfather, and much of the later part of Bearkeeper is taken up with dramatic scenes in which first he pursues them and then they pursue him.
Occasionally an authorial voice interjects, explaining some of the background. While this may not be entirely successful as a literary device, it will, no doubt, be an attractive feature in an educational context. While there is a sense that Bearkeeperis aimed at a schools and library market, there is enough here to keep readers glued to the page and to provide them with an enthralling introduction to 17th-century England.