If you love the idea of a giant pig in a swim suit, a host of mush-zombie like creatures with a special emphasis on the pronunciation of the letter ‘s’, plus a host of other eccentric characters battling for the possession of ancient magic amidst the underground rivers of London’s sewage system, then The Secret City of Rivers is a book you will not want to miss.
Hyacinth is the heroine of this new novel by Jacob Sager Weinstein, in which she finds that there is far more to her new home town of London than she had bargained for. Having left the USA with her mum reluctantly to start a new life, Hyacinth finds herself unable to fit in and misses her large family left behind in Illinois. The downstairs neighbour, Lady Roslyn, seems just as eccentric as the rest of her surroundings, especially the annoying bathroom tap, that has two faucets which do not mix hot and cold together. When Hyacinth find some plumbing tools she takes matters into her own hands and tries to fix the taps, only to find that London’s plumbing has some very magical elements to it, as she is swept up into an underground journey of potentially very ‘smelly’ proportions.
Jacob Sager Weinstein is known for his comedy and screen writing, and brings some comedic flair to his first children’s novel – there are some laugh out loud moments for kids, who will love the idea of a pig that communicates with elaborately written notes, or the bumbling ‘Saltpetre men’ who stumble around menacingly. Hyacinth herself is a great character, armed with witty insights and mostly no clue about what she is up against, her determination to rescue her mother from the Saltpetre men grows with every new challenge she has to undertake. And then of course, there are the sewers themselves – at times toilet-humour funny, at other times unimaginably icky, the setting of the sewers is an interesting one, bound to be more appealing to children than to their parents.
The storyline ducks in and out of crazy predicaments and narrow escapes, and despite the occasional clunky-ness that impedes the story flowing as smoothly as the underground sewers themselves, there is a good sense of suspense that young readers will enjoy. The idea of a vast underground aquatic terrain is actually based on some real facts about London’s rivers flowing beneath the streets of that big city. At the end of the book the author explains some of the rivers and the landmarks that are described in the book, which is fascinating in its own right.
The City of Secret Rivers is the first in a series on Hyacinth aimed at primary to intermediate school readers. The end of this first installment signals that there are still many untold stories of magic within London’s history – after reading this first novel, there will surely be many young readers waiting to see what Hyacinth does next