Having read and savoured every single word in Keith Austin’s awesome book Grymm, it took a good deal of self-control to refrain from cracking the spine on his most recent offering for Young Adult readers, Jago. With the housework in order, I finally succumbed to the temptation over the weekend and I wasn’t disappointed.
Set in the world of Victorian England Jago tells the story of 11 year old Demelza Cotton and Jago Quinn, a pair of street urchins who roam the streets of London’s Old Nichol slum. Austin skilfully brings alive the voice of Demelza as she describes her pitiful existence, barely surviving alongside her friend Jago as they eke out a miserable existence through petty crime. When the two friends discover an unusual lizard with rainbow coloured skin, an adventure begins in which their lives and the strength of their friendship is challenged.
The lightly gothic elements of Jago ensure that the book will have strong appeal with both boys and girls in the Middle Years. This is a short read (incidentally I never wanted it to end) making it the perfect length for shared classroom study. The title links well to the National Curriculum for History; with its strong focus upon the Victorian and Industrial era, especially for year 9 students where this is a key focus. Teachers will appreciate the many references to living standards, the structure of society and the high rate of poverty and crime during the period. The book might also incite a discussion on diverse topics such as Chinese culture, dragonology and Jack the Ripper. Furthermore, the book serves as a perfect entry point for examining the life and work of writers from the period such as William Blake and Charles Dickens.
I was impressed by this book on many levels, not least because this work is self-published. However, I did feel that a little more explanation relating to the origin of the lizard was needed, although I was not too perturbed, since the story is otherwise utterly engrossing. The only other concern I have for this title is accessibility. The book is currently available in print albeit in limited numbers and although it is available as an e-book, I fear that this will discourage its purchase by schools.
With richly drawn characters in an unforgettable landscape, Austin takes his readers on a memorable and faced paced journey into a slightly steampunk and Dickensesque world. A must-have title for every school library.
**The author provided me a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. I have otherwise not been paid for reviewing this book and my opinions reflect my own unbiased evaluation.**