Covent Garden, this present day, being 1st January, 1790,
Will be presented
The Diamond of Drury Lane
(written by Miss Cat Royal)
Miss Cat Royal–orphan and ward of the theater
Mr. Johnny Smith–prompter with a secret
Mr. Syd Fletcher–leader of the Butcher’s Boys and champion boxer
Mr. Billy “Boil” Shepherd–evil leader of rival gang
And a HIDDEN diamond!
With a new musical interlude by
Mr. Pedro Hawkins, late of Africa.
To which will be added a farce, in which
A HOT AIR BALLOON will land onstage!
I copied the blurb from the back cover of the book because the teaser was just as much fun as the writing in the story inside the book. Catherine Royal is an foundling of unknown parentage who lives backstage in Mr. Sheridan’s theater. She becomes involved in a plot to guard a hidden diamond as she overhears gossip that she’s not supposed to hear.
The book gives a great picture of the 1790’s for children, including cameo appearances by important personages, a look at the political issues of the time, and a vivid depiction of the cultural milieu of both the back alleys and the drawing rooms of late eighteenth century London. But history and cultural improvement were not the point of the story—the play’s the thing, as another author immersed in the theater would say. Cat would be a new and winsome addition to Jen’s Cool Girls of Children’s Literature list, and her friends and enemies in Drury Lane are a delight to get to know.
Cat warns her readers in the beginning of the book that “a different deportment is required on the streets of London than is usually taught to young ladies and gentlemen. . . . I hope you are not unduly shocked, for there is much more of the like to come.” I don’t think young readers will be unduly shocked by the violence and grit of 1790’s London as shown in The Diamond of Drury Lane, but they will be entertained and educated, both at the same time.
This book was published in 2006 in England where it won the Smarties Book Prize, a prize (similar to the Texas Bluebonnet Award) that was voted on by schoolchildren in Great Britain. It’s just now come out this year in the U.S., published by Roaring Brook Press. According to Ms. Golding’s website, there are already four more books in the Cat Royal series. The second one, Cat among the Pigeons, is available here in the U.S., and the third one is supposed to be “coming soon.”
More from other book bloggers:
Casey at Read a Great Teen Book: “Throughout all of her many adventures Cat stays true to her beliefs and her sense of right and wrong. Though Cat may be too trusting at times, she is crafty and intelligent and willing to risk everything to help a friend. The setting is richly portrayed and is accented by photographs of actual maps of London from 1790, the time when the story takes place.”
Sarah Rettger at Archimedes Forgets: “Makes me want to reread: Master Rosalind, by Patricia Beatty, another story of a girl in the theater with touches of political intrigue.”
I must add in response to Ms. Rettger that The Diamond of Drury Lane made me think of Sally Watson’s undervalued and almost forgotten classic about a girl in Shakespearean England, Mistress Malapert and the sort-of-sequel set during Cromwell’s reign, Lark. I love Patricia Beatty, so I’ll have to add Master Rosalind to my TBR list along with the others in the Cat Royal series.