Tiger Heart by Penny Chrimes

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Orion Children's Books, 2020. ISBN: 9781510107045.
(Age: 10+) Highly recommended.This is a fantasy story set 'magically' in the period of English life that the author describes as "somewhere between the Georgians . . . and the Victorians" and in the gutters of London. In this environment abandoned workhouse-girl Fly works in extreme hardship as a chimney sweep. She manages to escape her brutal 'boss', but finds herself in a cage with a tiger instead. This however proves to be a delightful meeting and the tiger recognises her immediately as someone who needs his guardianship, but also someone who has far more worth than her blackened and ragged outward appearance would suggest. With the ability to communicate together and also to use some magical skills to obfuscate and distract, the pair work together with the assistance of other 'gutterlings', to save other animals destined for life as caged entertainments for the wealthy toffs of London. Woven in the story are magical moments of good and evil, and Fly must do her best to survive and escape London with her menagerie. The second half of the story has Fly escaping from another brutal and shady character who has connection to her hidden past life. The love and connection between Fly and the Tiger is deep and moving and leads then both to a changed life.
Penny Chrimes has written a delightful fantasy, with some historical detail woven together with a fantasy country and despotic governance. The gentle tale of friendship and fantasy powers and concern for creatures who are powerless is delightful. The language of the London guttersnipes is delightfully quirky (a glossary is included at the end of the book) and adds touches of humour . . . leaving the reader with a 'gigglemug'! Young readers will enjoy the adventure and the inventiveness of the poor children as they survive in extreme situations and try to outwit adults, and the presence of a benevolent tiger to provide wisdom and care is also appealing. Themes: Poverty; Animals; Fantasy; Friendship.
Carolyn Hull