This is me catching up with series – a wonderful import from Australia that deserves more notice.
A Plague of Bogles. City of Orphans Book 2 by Catherine Jinks. Read by Mandy Williams. Listening Library, Random House, 2015. Published in Australia by Allen & Unwin, 2013, as A Very Peculiar Plague.
This book follows How to Catch a Bogle, which I very much enjoyed when it came out. I’d read that one in print, and then listened to both of them on audio. This I highly recommend, both because Mandy Williams does such an excellent job of capturing the accents of Victorian London and because both books are full of songs, which of course are only fully captured when really sung. I especially appreciated here how Jem and Birdy sing different varieties of street songs – Birdy’s featuring wronged women and Jem more often featuring men.
Birdy McAdam, the focus of the first book, is now living with Miss Eames and studying voice. This story is told from the point of view of Jem Barbary, her admirer, formerly employed as a pickpocket by Sarah Pickles. Since Sarah Pickles betrayed Jem by using him as not-meant-to-survive bogle bait and then disappeared, Jem has been working as a street sweeper in hopes of finding her. It’s the lowest of low jobs, so when Jem runs into Mr. Alfred Bunce again, he tries to convince him to go back to bogling and take on Jem as an apprentice. There are unprecedented numbers of bogles appearing in one place, a fact Jem hopes will sway Mr. Bunce in his favor.
Meanwhile, Jem has also found a showman who’s displaying what turns out to be a false Birdy McAdam – something that Birdy is keen to stop herself. Miss Eames, on the other hand, would like Birdy to stay safely at home while she takes care of the misuse of Birdy’s name herself. It turns out that living in the lap of luxury, not allowed to leave that lap or do anything useful, is stifling for a girl who was raised to support herself while roaming freely around the city.
There are lots of hair-raising adventures with narrow escapes from both bogles and unsavory characters, while we’re getting to know Jem, Birdy, Mr. Bunce and Ned, another street boy now living with Mr. Bunce. But there is a whole lot packed in underneath all of this, too. The bogling is made much more difficult because this is a modern era, and the people in charge of the city don’t want to believe that something as old-fashioned and country-bumpkinish as bogles could really exist inside their modern infrastructure. The whole story is embedded within the strict class structure of the time, with entire aspects of how life works for one segment incomprehensible to the other. Their explanations to each other are then very helpful for the modern-day reader unfamiliar with the time period. The contrast between the lives of upper class children and the numerous street children is especially stark, without ever being dwelled on in such a way as to bog the story down with hopelessness. While it’s hard as a parent not to feel sorry for them, the kids are never sorry for themselves, confident in their ability to take care of themselves and maybe rid the world of a few bogles while they’re at it.