Book Review: Gaslight by Eloise Williams

Book - Gaslight by Eloise WilliamsIt’s always strange to read a children’s book as an adult, requiring a kind of leap backwards to a previous version of yourself. Gaslight by Eloise Williams, is exactly the sort of book the younger me would have enjoyed – with the perfect mix of historical detail, mystery, suspense and danger. The fact that it is set in Victorian Cardiff (in 1899) adds an extra dimension of interest for a historian like me, as I can visualise the old city superimposed over familiar streets.  

The book opens in a rather strange, disembodied way, with Nansi (the protagonist) floating in a lake, listing her various personas under different names and thereby introducing herself to the reader. But it soon sparks interest and the tension begins to build, as we follow Nansi in her role as supporting actress and reluctant thief for ‘Pernicious Sid’, owner of the Empire Theatre.

Nansi is determined to discover what happened to her mother, who mysteriously disappeared a few years previously, and we are presented with a fascinating picture of what life was like for youngsters in this period of Cardiff’s past. I love the details (sights, sounds and smells) and the fact that we not only get to see life inside a Victorian working theatre, but we’re also given a glimpse of what the old docklands would have been like – an area of Cardiff which has changed so dramatically over recent decades.

As an adult (with extensive knowledge of Cardiff’s history), it wasn’t always easy to get lost in the story. One or two historical details seemed to stand out a little too much, as if they were inserted for educational purposes, but I expect this is the sort of thing you wouldn’t notice as a young reader. Gaslight is aimed at 8-12 year olds, so I thought it made sense to find out what someone in this age range thought of it. Here’s a great summary of the book from Carys Williams, age 11:

“I really liked the book because it was interesting, a bit funny and it had an interesting plot. I especially liked the plot twist near the end. The book kept me feeling excited because there were sometimes very close escapes and a lot of drama. I thought the characters were really good (my favourite is probably Bee) and Sid is a very creepy bad guy. I couldn’t keep up with all the bits of the plot at times, although I understood it all at the end… Sometimes it was mainly in short sentences, which made it a bit less interesting to read. Overall, I really enjoyed the book and I especially enjoyed the plot.”

Gaslight is an intriguing read, with a likeable protagonist and a clever plot which takes you by surprise, and I am certain that the 8-12 year old me would have enjoyed reading it very much. It reminds me of the Joan Aiken books I used to read when I was that age.

Gaslight is published by Firefly Press. If you follow the link and scroll down you’ll see quotes from the author about her inspiration for the book.

Declaration: I received a free copy of the book from the author.

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