Robin Scott-Elliot’s first novel The Tzar’s Curious Runaways was a terrific debut story for children and this new one does not disappoint. Set against the background of the Indian Mutiny in 1857, it does not skate over the horror of that part of the history of the British in India, but at its heart is the story of an orphan girl taken from her Granny in Scotland to join an aunt in India after the death of her parents there, where she will be reunited with her baby brother George. Beatrice is a rebel and at the circus on her arrival in Agra she sees her dream come to life in front of her eyes, to be an acrobat in a circus. Unlikely as this may seem, events allow her to encounter the Great Romanini and together with Pin, the Indian boy who turns the pages of the books of her uncle, the Governor, and Tonton the tiger they set out to find George, and along the way Beatrice becomes an acrobat.
This is an adventure story with everything one can possibly imagine within its pages, a plucky heroine, a French high wire acrobat, a resourceful Indian boy who can see a different life for himself, and of course the tiger. There are some very thrilling passages, also some which reveal the hatred engendered by the mutiny, and including the marvellous figure of the Rani. The heat of India pulsates from the pages and the descriptions of the palace at Agra make the reader want to see it for herself. It is so good to read a book that is so different in its background, not glossing over the historical background which was very grim, but at the heart of which is a very human story, that of a girl wanting to find her only living close relative, homesick for her Granny in Scotland, but finding good friends, and also developing a real skill on the high wire!
A small thing, but Memsahib is the term used for the mistress of the house not the master as stated on p27, and the use of the word ‘lent’ on p247 should be leant?
In the questions at the end of the book, the author gives the background to his writing of the story and that too is fascinating as so much of it is based on true events. It will be very interesting to see where Robin Scott-Elliot goes to for his next story, for there surely must be another one, after Tzarist Russia, and the British in India!