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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

eHistoricals: Helen Hart's Pirates and Peter St John's Gangs

SC Poe's Indie eBook Sampler, #10

Poe spent the past week in a favorite corner of the Netbook Jungle: Historical Fiction. Alas! Worthy pickings are slim. A good historical cannot be dashed off, for the genre's fans value elements that take pains and time (world-building; research; top-quality editing; often, a distinctive and accurate period "voice").

Yet epublishing and HistFic are made for each other. Readers who like them are avid to find new titles, while Historicals rank low on the list of what big presses publish. (Some editorial and agency wish lists even make a cruel point of specifying no historicals, as a child might say no cauliflower.) Poe therefore entreats authors to dig into your trunks and pull out those rumpled old historical mss. (So many of us have one, with "good" rejections clinging to it like Purple Hearts.) Format them, give them nice covers, and send them into the digital marketplace.

If you know/are an author who's already done that, please contact Poe, who will gladly sample it. See Poe's spanking new sidebar for how to submit.

Poe did uncover several excellent MG Historical authors at a small UK press called SilverWood Books. Not all titles are available as ebooks yet, but Poe recommends these:

The Black Banner
By Helen Hart
SilverWood Books, 2011
Poe thinks this is MG historical (seafaring)

First sentences: October 21st 1719. I am Billy Baxter. What does that name conjure up?

How about imagining a runaway whose real name is Becky, shipping out that day on the Bonny Marie with a cargo for Jamaica? The girl is fleeing her mother, a bawd who's been letting Becky ripen like an apple for the rapidly approaching enjoyment of the disgusting Mr Crudder.

The writing is vigorous, rich, and full of convincing details. The names are delicious, from ship's cook Uriah Flubb to Captain Scabrill and the detested Crudder. The brief sample comes to an arbitrary end in the middle of a sentence, but who cares? We lubbers are already well out to sea, and primed for adventure. If we needed added incentive, the frontispiece has clued us in: there's Piracy afoot!

Helen Hart has published under various names with HarperCollins and other presses. As Sebastian Rook, she pens the Vampire Plague series for Scholastic.

Rated S for Snapped Up.

Gang Territory
(The Gang Books: Gang Territory, Gang Warfare, Gang Rivalry, Gang Loyalty, Gang Petition, Gang Spies)
By Peter St John
SilverWood Books, 2012
Poe thinks this is MG Historical (WWII)

First sentences: I braced my belly against a leaden foreboding that couldn't be vomited out. I knew I would have to fight.

At first, the MC won't give his name. All we know is that his London orphanage was bombed, and he's been evacuated to the country village of Widdlington. In later books, we learn that he is named Peter, like the author, who himself was a "vaccie" during the London Blitz, and who plundered his own vivid memories for these stories.

Nowadays, the word gang makes us expect street crime and violence. In this series, there are a few bullies (hinted at in the opening, above), but for the most part we're reading about mischief and sports competitions. The gangs feel like combination Scout troops and Soap Box Derby teams. Of course, real danger always hovers and occasionally intrudes, for (as the leader of the Go-Getter Girls says in Gang Loyalty), "An' s'pose they decide ter start the invasion at Widdlin'ton—wot then?"

St John has crammed these stories with fascinating details: the school fence, sheared off to make bullets and bombs; the feel, smell and taste of a gas mask; the bucket and plank privy; even a detailed lesson on how to flick marbles.

The core group of characters is well-drawn, and the girls play important roles, too. This aspect, and the quieter feel of the stories, make the series best suited for readerly middle graders.

Rated Q for Queued—all six books—to explore as time permits.

1 comment:

  1. Huge fan of Peter Gang books. I purchased everyone of them and look beyond the words and you will see the author's heart!