Roll up, roll up for the next thrilling, spilling adventure from the world of Hetty Feather. For from that first tale about Jacqueline Wilson’s first historical heroine, a whole series has now sprung to life. This is assuredly an author never short on delicious new tricks with which to delight her fans.
In this latest escapade, we meet Wilson’s new Diamond girl, Ellen-Jane. Born into humble circumstances in 1883, she is an immediate disappointment to her parents, who longed for a fourth boy, John to add to her ‘holy terror’ trio of gospel sons, Matthew, Mark and Luke, Ellen-Jane’s prodigious talent for gymnastics gets her into deep and dark trouble when her mother dies, and her grief-stricken father sells her to the circus. There, under constant threat of being beaten by her new master, Beppo, she must learn to perform with the Silver Boys tumbling act under her new persona of Diamond, the Acrobatic Child Wonder.
And lo, and behold, this is not just any circus, but Tanglefield’s Travelling Circus as encountered in the previous Hetty Feather novels. And the little girl in the short white dress and silver ballet on p336 of Emerald Star? She is none other than our Diamond. And so it is, that half-way through, her story intersects with that of Hetty herself as that feisty red-headed heroine takes up her new job, mastering the ring. Kind Madame Adeline is among other returning characters to whom Hetty fans are also sure to give a warm welcome.
This book has plenty of flaws. It’s baggy, the dialogue is often stilted and its plot is paper-thin in places. And it’s something of a mystery why Wilson chose to write a book about Diamond rather than Hetty. Winsome though her new little star is, Emerald, aka Hetty, is much the most dominant and appealing character for the second half of the book anyway. And I know this is introducing a modern day sensibility but I couldn’t help thinking that Wilson is rather cavalier in barely touching upon the welfare of the various animals in the circus – the elephant, lions, sea lions, horses and monkeys – something which might well concern many of her readers.
Having said all that, criticising anything by Wilson without saying something nice is as difficult as wriggling Houdini-like out of a straitjacket. Wilson is such a charming and dependable performer that there is of course still much to enjoy here, particularly with such a colourful troupe of circus artistes. I enjoyed her evocation of the sights and sounds of the big top: from the circus ring which smells of ‘sawdust and animals and saveloys and oranges and gingerbread’, to dear old Mr Marvel ‘with so many wrinkles that you’d run out of pencil if you tried to draw his face.
Diamond is not a class act perhaps, but you still won’t want to walk out before the finale.