I previously mentioned that we had attended the rather lovely Carmarthen launch of Gaslight by Eloise Williams. Here is more information about the deliciously dark book:
About the book
Gaslight is a dark Victorian thriller with a brave, complex heroine who will break your heart and make you cheer. ‘It’s hard to drown when you’re as good at swimming as I am…’
1899. All Nansi knows is that she and her mother were running away from someone, and then she was being fished out of Cardiff docks with no memory of how she got there. Her mother hasn’t been seen since. With nobody else to turn to, she works for Pernicious Sid at the Empire Theatre. She loves it when she gets the chance to perform and dreams of being a star, but Sid also makes her steal, sneaking into rich houses dressed as a maid, telling her the money will pay for a detective to find out who she is. Life is hard but Nansi is a fighter, determined to protect her friend Bee and, most of all, to find her mother.
Everything changes when Constance and Violet join the theatre. At first it looks like Violet might be Nansi’s big break, but it’s Con that holds the real secret. Who can Nansi trust? As she starts to get closer to the truth, she’s soon on the run for her life.
Can she save her mother? Can she save herself?
Eloise Williams’s wild, dark Victorian thriller has a brave, complex heroine who will break your heart and make you cheer. ‘It’s hard to drown when you’re as good at swimming as I am…’
Cover design by Anne Glenn
Chapter heading artwork by Guy Manning
About the Author
Eloise Williams was born in Cardiff and grew up in south Wales. She now lives in Pembrokeshire, very close to the beach where she walks her dog Watson Jones. She worked in the theatre in wardrobe, then studied Drama. After working for over ten years as an actress, she studied for a Masters in Creative Writing at Swansea University. Her first book for children, Elen’s Island, was published in 2015 (you can read our review of Elen’s Island here). Gaslight is her second book.
Gaslight is aimed at older children, with a suggested age of 9 and above so perfect for Rebecca (and myself of course!). This meant we had to have a few scuffles over the book when it arrived- the cover and synopsis are so tempting. I love books set in the Victorian era and Gaslight is especially exciting to me as it’s set in dark, Victorian Cardiff.
Our likeable heroine Nansi tells her story in the first person. This technique immediately draws us readers into the story however Eloise’s poignant and detailed writing means Gaslight offers us more than just the experience of one individual, she has seamlessly managed to combine Nansi’s personal story with the wider social context of the hardship of many children in the Victoria Era and life in the Victorian Theatre. There is so much more to read between each line.
While Nansi saves up the money for a detective to look for her mother she is in the care (I use the term loosely) of (“Pernicious”) Sid, and lives in the cellar of The Empire Theatre alongside her good friend Bee who Nansi will fight “tooth and nail to protect”.
“He’s given me a room of my own in the backstage cellars and I have a mattress to myself, so I can’t complain.”
Nansi play different roles in her real life as well as playing different roles on stage.
“When I’m thieving I’m Tilly Thomas…when I’m on stage I’m Ruby Radclyffe…When I’m Nansi Howells, I am really me.”
The detailed descriptions bring the dark, Dickensian theatre and colourful characters to life (sometimes too realistically in fact and I felt I needed to push the vile villain Sid out of my own face!).
Life changes for Nansi when Constance and Violet join the theatre and Nansi is forced to become a part of Violet’s phony psychic act. Gaslight contains some mature scenes but these are cleverly written by Eloise from Nansi’s younger perspective protecting younger readers.
The plot speeds up once Nansi overhears a conversation that will have devastating consequences. The book is full of mystery and foreshadowing, twists and turns and an ending that I did not predict. The darkness of the book is lightened by Eloise’s wit and humour which shines throughout.
“I would fight tooth and nail to protect her (Bee). I will have to make the dress myself even if it will be a complete shambles and I do die from the arsenic. On second thoughts, I don’t fancy dying that much. I must come up with a plan.”
I heartily recommend this book to Year 5 and upwards in schools and to readers at home. It will make a great read when learning about the Victorians in school but is a standalone enjoyable “free reader” too. I looking forward to rereading this book when winter comes as it will make a great winter read (it can of course be read in all other seasons which is how it very deservedly came to be top of the Welsh Books Best Sellers English Titles for Children list for April). Eloise is currently in hiding writing her third book which I have no doubt will be another great book to look forward to!
Buy a copy of Gaslight here, £6.99.
We received a copy of Gaslight for the purposes of this review, but all opinions are our own and we have already ordered more copies for gifts as it’s so good!