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Montmorency
Eleanor Updale
Scholastic Orchard, 240 pages

Montmorency
Eleanor Updale
Eleanor Updale grew up in Camberwell in South London. She attened Oxford University, where she studied history. Following that she worked for the BBC, working on TV and Radio programmes from 1975 to 1990. She left to look after her family and later decided to join the Clinical Ethics Committee at Great Ormond Street Hospital.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Sherwood Smith

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Scholastic is far from being an obscure publisher, but this delightful book might fall between the cracks -- it's a historical novel, but about scientific endeavor and its costs. Montmorency is also a wonderful action novel full of carefully researched and brilliantly evoked detail that makes the Victorian period come alive.

The time is 1875, the place a London cell block. Prison life is extraordinarily grim for Montmorency -- especially as he was horribly wounded while trying to escape a failed burglary. A young doctor named Mr. Farcett takes an interest in Montmorency's case, and slowly and painfully restores him to life with experimental treatments. Eleanor Updale doesn't stint on the descriptions of the horrors of Victorian medicine, including the way Montmorency feels when he is exposed to the Scientific Society. The scientists there, he realizes, do not really see him as a human being, but as a fascinating case. And because they don't see him as human, he's permitted to hear a presentation on the sewer systems of London -- which gives him an idea.

But first he has to escape. Now he's learned to be careful, to think ahead. He is successful enough to get some money and to establish himself in a fine hotel, where he invents a gentleman's persona. Yet he must fund this persona, and so he lets the thief part of his personality take over when he descends to the sewers -- and kids ought to find the vivid descriptions of the London sewers delightfully horrifying and disgusting -- a personality he also uses as his 'servant.' Montmorency thus has two sides, the slouching, rude Scarper, and the fine young gentleman Montmorency, who slowly learns to make friends but is also chased by the hotel owner's husband-hungry daughter.

How he survives, the problems he faces as he begins to explore the world and educate himself, what makes a gentleman besides clothes? All these questions are explored with sympathetic realism, and all the characters, no matter how minor, are extraordinarily three-dimensional and fascinating. Young SF and fantasy readers ought to enjoy Montmorency as a memorable alien encounter story.

Copyright © 2005 Sherwood Smith

Sherwood Smith is a writer by vocation and reader by avocation. Her webpage is at www.sff.net/people/sherwood/.


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