Book one of a two-part intriguing mystery series set in the perilous back alleys of Georgian London. From the multi-awardwinning author of A Very Unusual Pursuit.
Catherine Jinks was born in Brisbane in 1963 and grew up in Sydney and Papua New Guinea. She studied medieval history at university and her love of reading led her to become a writer. Her books for children, teenagers and adults have been published to wide acclaim all over the world, and have won numerous awards. Catherine's most recent titles include the multi-award- winning A Very Unusual Pursuit; Book One in the City of Orphans trilogy, the bestselling Evil Genius books, and her paranormal spoofs, The Reformed Vampire Support Group and The Abused Werewolf Rescue Group.
Catherine lives in the Blue Mountains in NSW with her husband, journalist Peter Dockrill, and their daughter Hannah.
The latest offering from the marvellous Catherine Jinks concerns 12 year old Theophilus Grey, a linkboy working in Georgian London in 1750. Linkboys guide people home through dark and often dangerous streets by the light of their torches. But Philo, as his friends call him, is also a spy, working for the mysterious Garnet Hooke. Rumours abound of a faery demon on the loose, and Philo believes this may be connected to a sudden wave of crime.
Once again, Catherine Jinks vividly recreates the streets of London with evocative, authentic language and well-drawn characters, in an engaging and satisfying read, which will appeal to upper primary readers and young adults. With themes of loyalty, belonging and the clash between superstition and reason, there is much to provoke thoughtful discussion. As with her other novels, this book would be an excellent extension for advanced readers, due to the themes, language and historical setting.
Activities in the classroom could include the following:
Students could compare London of 1750 with a contemporary city, in terms of planning and infrastructure; compare the language in the book with modern-day language, and research how and why spoken language evolves; research other coming of age stories and identify what the characters have in common; write an alternative ending for the story; write a letter to one of the characters, or to the author; research and prepare a presentation on the Enlightenment; compare and contrast the characters of Garnet Hooke and Nathaniel Paxton; write a persuasive piece arguing why either of these two characters is more important to Philo.
This is a superb book, very well researched, which will probably also appeal to fans of the Ranger’s Apprentice series. I can’t wait for the sequel!
Anthea Barrett, CRT, VIC
In the interests of transparency, I’d like to disclose that I fell in love with Catherine Jinks’ writing many years ago when I first encountered The Pagan Chronicles. At the time I was greatly impressed with her attention to detail in bringing the environment and times of the Crusades to life, and the authenticity with which she was able to tell her young hero’s story.
Reading Theophilus Grey and the Demon Thief was absolutely not a disappointment. As I had expected, Catherine Jinks has not only written an intriguing and page-turning mystery, but one which transports the reader to a very different world, in a very different time.
It is easy to forget that childhood, as such, also had a very different meaning for the orphans and impoverished of earlier times, and that survival required ingenuity and confidence. Theophilus Grey, variously known as Philo or Captain, displays both, as well as deep consideration and loyalty to his crew. Catherine Jinks has created a likeable and thoughtful protagonist, and set his story in a London instantly recognisable and, yet, unfamiliar in its accurate and well researched depiction of the mid seventeen hundreds.
To me, apart from simply being a great story to share with a class, I see Theophilus Grey and the Demon Thief as a way to open discussion with students about life in the past and what it was like for children, compared with their lives today. For students who would be studying the arrival of the First Fleet in Australia (which was not so very long after this story was set) or the Convicts, the story also provides much insight into the lives that many of the first European arrivals left behind, and how it was possible for young people to be convicted of crimes that seem so petty today.
Beyond that, it is a beautifully presented book, complete with a very useful map and dramatis personae, and clever chapter headings, combining to make a persuasive lure for the young readers who are its intended audience. Most attractive to me, however, is the way that history without compromise comes alive in Catherine Jinks’ hands. While the context and the text itself provides a key to the terms and expectations of the period, the reader is not patronised, but is rather drawn in, a conspirator to the story, and a breathless companion to the Captain as he leads us deeper into the underlife of a forgotten world.
A very good read.
Catherine Whittle, Monash Primary School, ACT
Theophilus Grey and the Demon Thief is the first book in this series by Catherine Jinks. It is set in eighteenth century London and is about Philo a young boy who makes a living by selling information gathered by himself and other boys.
This novel is not for the faint hearted as the language is straight out of London of 1750. The reader needs to slow down when conversation is being read as it is written as you would have heard it. This gives insight into how Londoners spoke at the time but it does mean you need to give the text your attention. The names of the characters that Philo has information about also challenge the reader as there are so many of them and with many being nicknames or unusual names the reader needs time to process them so they know their history when they meet them again. There is really interesting vocabulary in the book such as ‘nightboil’ and ‘baubee’. In the back of the book is a glossary which has some of the words unknown to the reader listed but others will need to be researched if meaning cannot be gained from the text itself.
It is interesting the way the author has an informative phrase under the number heading, introducing each chapter. One assumes that the author wishes the reader to know what is coming encouraging them to read on immediately. It is hard to put down when the phrase informs that something unusual or bad is to happen next.
Another interesting addition to this novel is the map in the front part of the book. With Geography as a main area of the Australian Curriculum this could be a couple of lessons for the class by themselves. Add to that the research needed both for unusual vocabulary and 1750 London and it is a useful addition to any classroom library.
Roxanne Steenbergen, Windermere Primary School, TAS
A new Catherine Jinks novel is always a welcome event, and if you have boys who love adventure, this is a book for them. It will definitely appeal to the 11-14 year olds who are fans of John Flanagan’s Ranger series.
Theophilus (Philo) is bright, alert and good at spotting talent. He leads a group of link boys (boys who guide people through the dark streets for a fee), and uses the group to gather information for his employer. The book is set in Georgian London, and the characters are strongly drawn, and interesting.
For a teacher, this contains some strong historical research to share with your class, and has the added advantage of containing a glossary of thieves’ cant, which the students are bound to love. The setting is as gloomy and claustrophobic as the alleys of fogbound, dirty London in the 18th Century. Jinks has created a wonderful protagonist in Philo. He is genuinely likeable, but not perfect, and the whiff of the supernatural lacing the book mirrors the social struggle between superstition and enlightenment.
Teachers can use this novel to discuss the historical, social and economic context faced by the inhabitants of England in the 18th century. It naturally introduces the social consequences of transportation of convicts, and the impetus which forced those inhabitants without wealth or education to consider a life of crime.
Philo also deals with the ethical problems posed by his life, and this can create the opportunity for in-class research and consideration of the morality of wealth, education and crime – both in the context of Georgian Britain, but also whether the same issues can be mirrored in the modern era.
I really enjoyed reading this book. I particularly liked Philo, and I am very eager to read the second book!
Ceri Davies, Teacher, St Brendan-Shaw College, TAS
A very accessible historical fiction novel, Theophilus Grey and The Demon Thief has much to commend it. Written by the accomplished Catherine Jinks, the narrative is enriched by accurate historic detail which makes for an ‘authentic’ reading experience, with enough engagement with characters, plot twists, and the mystery of possible supernatural events being overlaid with the gritty experience of a life of poverty as experienced by children abandoned to the streets in ‘Dickensian’ times. The setting is rich in myriad detail which brings to life a past where street lighting, sewerage, laws protecting the weak and vulnerable, society’s responsibility for the care of the sick, even the science of medicine, are rudimentary or non-existent.
The protagonist is a twelve year old ‘Link Boy’, or lantern bearer, Philo, who was abandoned by his family years ago and taken in by a ‘philanthropist’, the Lawyer’s Clerk Garnet Hooke, “very cunning, who has raised Philo to serve him”: kinder, or less cruel perhaps, than old Fagin, but certainly cut from the same exploitative cloth. Like Oliver Twist, Philo also meets a ‘kindly gentleman’, a Doctor Paxton, “kindly and humorous”, who learns much about London street life from Philo whilst also choosing to improve Philo’s life.
Jinks succeeds in incorporating much authentic vocabulary into a fast moving tale written largely in current day English, which makes it more accessible to its audience than if written in the language of the time in which it is set. There are very useful additions such as a Character list of ‘Dramatis Personae’ a Glossary of Victorian terms no longer used, and Chapter headings which follow the Victorian convention of being both decorative and ample.
I see this book working particularly well with boys, mid to late Primary. A hardback book of around 300 pages, it would probably also work if read aloud, possibly making it suitable for class study. It could lead to discussion about poverty, law and social justice, crime, honesty, honour, the Victorian era; about taking risks, fear, & also about the value of friendship and loyalty in a person's life. It could fit into Curriculum studies in History. There is opportunity for intertextual study in English through comparison with the works of Charles Dickens, or even with the early Harry Potter books, in its creation of a world where boys live much of their days without direct adult supervision.
Helen Wilde, SA