Why did I pick up A Murder For Her Majesty by Beth Hilgartner originally? I can’t remember. It wasn’t because of Battle of the Books – I was the who recommended it. It wasn’t because it was a Sonlight reader, the book was a favorite of mine long before it was a school read aloud for my family. It wasn’t read as a backlash for all the inappropriate and horrible books I was finding in the Young Adult section either. I read it even before that.
It was probably the title that drew me in, or the promise of a historical mystery. It could have been the binding, or the smell, or any number of things. Possibly it was simply those first few words. Why was a young girl wandering around lost and hungry? Would she find the cathedral? Who was the scamp that knocked her over? And so on and so on as the story drew me. I realize now what talented writing that is, to immediately draw the reader in and tug on their sympathy for a character. That is the sign of a good writer. It is the sign of a good book.
11-year-old Alice Tuckfield witnessed her Father’s murder. It was done in the name of the queen. Fearful for her life and expecting no justice, she flees to Yorkshire in the hopes of finding a protector but her Father’s old friend is gone. Instead, she meets up with a group of mischievous choirboys who decide to disguise her as a boy and sneak her into the choir. With a beautiful voice and good nature, young “Allister” quickly becomes a favorite but it also makes her a target. Her Father’s murderers are also in Yorkshire and their mission is to find and silence the daughter that got away.
Ooooh, I love this book. I have often heard people say they envy someone reading a particularly favorite book ‘for the first time’ but I definitely don’t feel that way with A Murder For Her Majesty. I loved it for the characters and story when I was younger. I love it more now because, like an old friend, it has been around for awhile and my appreciation expands with every interaction. It is when you have a healthy appreciation for what bad is that you can fully appreciate good.
And A Murder For Her Majesty is good.
If there is one thing I gained in perspective beginning this review, it is an even healthier respect for the writing. It blends. It beats. It draws the reader in, tugs their heart. We sense Alice’s fears but aren’t drowned in them. All the characters have fairly well rounded personalities and quirks that make them memorable and likable…..or despicable if it is a villain. There is a good contrast between the Bad Guys and the Good Guys.
It is hard to find a good role model for girls in books today. I am not saying it’s impossible. But it is hard. Especially once you get to the Young Adult section of a library. In fact, at that point it is almost impossible. For mothers trying to find wholesome heroines for their middle school daughters, you can’t really go wrong with Alice Tuckfield. She’s believable, mischievous, and experiences character growth. She doesn’t disguise herself as a boy to prove to the world that guys and girls are equal or anything. She’s just an 11-year-old girl and her natural, comfortable relationship with the choir boys is a great buddy story. No love triangles, inappropriate language, or scenes to put a young reader to the blush. However, it is also not a childish mystery. Alice really is in danger.The setting is historical. This isn’t Nancy Drew and the Missing Tennis Shoes. However, it is a far cry from the usual “teenage” fare. What I mean is this, for young readers who want more than the Juvenile Fiction but aren’t ready to brave the Teen Section quite yet, this is a good read.
The characters are, appealing, fun, and creative. They are well developed. They immediately become a young reader’s best friends. I say that because I about to introduce to you possibly one of my favorite literary characters of all time: Geoffrey Fisher.
He’s the one who comes up with the idea originally to sneak Alice into the choir. He’s hilarious, mischievous, and loyal to the core. He’s very colorful. I got in trouble in school one time because every time I had to write a character bio for class I’d write it on him. Finally after I turned in my third character sketch of Geoffrey Fisher my Mom decided enough was enough and I was banned from using him again!
I just discovered this blog post on him and you should read it. It’s amazing. http://www.notebooksisters.com/2013/06/a-murder-for-her-majesty-why-geoffrey.html It also sums up something really true. It’s hard to precisely pinpoint what makes Geoffrey so awesome. I mean, he’s funny and loyal but it isn’t back-story that makes him brilliant. It isn’t some super-power or extreme act. He’s a side character. A side character in one novel. It’s not like you follow him for a series (oh how awesome that would be!) The key, though, is that he is an individual. You never doubt it for a moment. That scene where he does the Highland Fling is probably one of my all time favorites in literary history. It’s not a great battle or amazing stunt. It’s Geoffrey in a nutshell. A perfectly random and yet warm gesture of awesomeness.
Character development, plot line, writing…it’s a good mix in this book. This isn’t To Kill A Mockingbird or some other profound classic. It does not have to be. Being a bookworm who loves reading, this is simply that. A good book that remains faithfully enjoyable even as I get older. I seem to use the word wholesome a lot but I like it. So many books are trashy that a novel with development and good characters is a treat.