The pickpocket and the gargoyle by Lindsay Eagar

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This story is brilliant!  It is endearing and disquieting, and absolutely worth reading. In many ways it feels like a fantasy Dickensian drama (Oliver Twist-esque), in which a young girl named Duck, has been watched over by the Gargoyle in the unfinished and crumbling cathedral in the riverside town of Odierne. In fact, even when as an infant Duck fell from the cathedral walls into the river, the gargoyle watched powerlessly. Rescued and ‘adopted’ by the local gang of thieves (the Crowns) she lives in poverty and uncertainty, stealing and struggling to survive. When the Crowns’ leader, Gnat, plots to have her apprenticed to the local Baker, her life and concept of ‘family’ changes, but her thieving continues for the benefit of the Crowns. Trying to juggle her allegiance to her thieving family and her new employer creates many challenges for the young girl. Can she resolve where her loyalty should lie, or is it only about where the next meal comes from?

This book won me over immediately as it began with the unusual voice of the stone Gargoyle – the stolid and grumpy carved statue who can only watch and never act. His grumpiness is quaint and his view of the world before him gives unique setting detail and adds an intriguing voice to the tale of Duck (her name has been lost, so she keeps the nickname gifted to her by her thieving troupe). Most of the story is told in the voice of Duck (although the Gargoyle contributes occasionally), and we see inside the sadness of the homeless youngster, but we also see loyalty and friendship. Her time as an apprentice to the local baker, an almost blind and generous widow, gives her new opportunities for connection and practical skills, and the chance to keep her friends from starvation. This young girl changes from a fearful 6-year-old to a feisty and intelligent youngster and the transformation is not just about size and age. Letting down her ‘original family’ is not in her vocabulary, and hurting her new loving employer is also unappealing, but it is inevitable that she will not be able to keep all of them happy. I loved the journey back in time to a fictional place, but also into the heart of the homeless orphan. I will be recommending this book to confident readers aged 10 - 14. It is not hard to read, but neither is the story light-hearted – light-fingered, but not light-hearted. There is sadness and struggle, danger and gang-related crime, but it is infused with heart!

Themes: Thieves, Redemption, Loyalty, Hardship, Family, Homelessness.

Carolyn Hull