Soon, Picky becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to Amelia, and whether she survived. There’s only one thing for it: she’s going to have to go back in time again…
There’s something deliciously old-school about time travel stories. Maybe it’s wish-fulfilment: after all, who wouldn’t like to experience their favourite historical era first-hand? The beautiful long dresses, the horse-drawn carriages, the dashing young gentlemen with good old-fashioned manners… Sounds like a sweet deal, right? Drop a 21st century thirteen-year-old protagonist into the mix, and we’ve got a winning combination: old-school time-travel story meets new-school heroine.
Picky – yes, it’s a nickname, and she hates it too – is the kind of character that you can’t help but warm to. She’s not beautiful, she’s not popular, and she’s not a boy-magnet – but who really likes those things in a heroine, anyway? She’s gutsy, honest and sarcastic, and that’s what matters. There are definite perks to the time-travel situation – Amelia is beautiful, nobody in the 17th century thinks a size 14 is ‘hefty’, and her manservant just happens to be a complete hottie – but at the same time, there are downsides. And Picky is very vocal about the downsides.
A good time travel story is all about the world-building, and Mary Naylus does an awesome job of creating an authentic 17th century London – through the eyes of a modern day teenager, of course. There’s an impressive level of rich historical detail, and it’s clear the author has done meticulous research into what life was really like in London at that time. Picky’s verdict? It all stinks. Literally. And she’s not too keen on the lecherous old Earl she’s betrothed to, either.
As well as being really fun, The Dresskeeper is also a story about a character learning to take control of her own destiny. Bullied at school, Picky is used to taking the crap that the 'Demon Worshippers' dish out to her and the other non-supermodels in the class. It’s only when she travels back in time and meets people with real problems – think smallpox, starvation and slavery – that she realises she can make a difference in the 17th century and the 21st. Not in a holier-than-thou, personality-transplant way – she just finally knows what’s important to her, and does what she has to do.
Even if you don't normally go for books about time travel, this one is well worth making an exception for: half mystery, half time-travel story, and the snarkiest thirteen year old heroine I've ever encountered. Oh yeah, and way more fun than a history lesson. Read it. Seriously.
Out: 27 November 2009, UK
Thank you to Prospera Publishing for sending me a copy for review.