This wonderful story is set in the early part of the 19th century, 1830 to be precise; at a time when Britain was at the centre of an ever growing empire. This story highlights the many changes that society was going through; moving away from the excesses of the Georgian period and into a time of exploration, science and a greater understanding of the natural world.
It is the really heart wrenching story of a young girl coming to terms with a new country, the loss of parents and caring for the animals in her charge. Sahira Clive, is the daughter of an English father and India mother, both of whom died on the journey from India, so that it is left to Sahira to deliver two tigers to the Tower of London menagerie. However as a twelve year old girl in a foreign land she finds herself at the mercy of the adults around her and is sent to an orphanage in the East End, having been told that her father’s wealthy family do not wish to acknowledge her. Sahira finds her life still entwined with the two tigers, Rama and Sita, as they have problems settling into their new quarters. However she finds that as an outsider she is subject to bullying and verbal abuse as a minimum. Whilst helping out at the menagerie she comes into contact with young Bobby Peel, the son of the Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel and through him she discovers a young cousin and the rest of her family.
The author has produced a wonderful story that combines brilliant story telling, strong characters and a real sense of history. Not only are the historical facts accurate but they give us a true sense of the deep poverty that existed in the country at this time, alongside immense wealth, as well as the way the poor were treated as being almost less that human. This is a really multi-layered story in which we see themes around racism, class, women’s rights (or rather the lack of), animal welfare and law and order all playing a part. Not only is this a tremendous adventure story but it has a wonderfully strong central character in Sahira; she is determined to do her best for the animals in her charge and increase the understanding of how we should look after the animals around us. She is also a person who has to fight against various forms of prejudice and make people accept her for the amazing character that she is.
Julia Golding has been writing books for young people for the last 15 plus years and I have been enjoying them since the beginning. She is best known for two of her series; firstly there is the Companions series which mixes Greek mythology with magic in the modern world, then we have the ‘Cat Royal’ series which follow the adventures of a young girl in 18th century London and beyond. She has also written for younger teens and I particularly enjoyed the ‘Dragonfly’ series. Julia has led a fascinating life having worked in the Civil Service in the UK and in Poland. She then undertook a PhD in English about the ‘English Romantic Period’ at Oxford before becoming a lobbyist for Oxfam. She now writes full time and I am delighted to say that she still lives in Oxford (my home city) with her family.