Following the stars

Stars of Fortune is one of just a few of Cynthia Harnett's historical adventure stories for children that I hadn't read. Out of print for many years, it has only become available again fairly recently. Set in the reign of Queen Mary ("Bloody Mary"), it involves the children of the Washington family (the ancestors of George Washington), who live in a manor house in Sulgrave, Oxfordshire. The two eldest boys along with their best friend, the Elizabethan courtier-to-be, Christopher Hatton, plot to free Princess Elizabeth from her incarceration in Woodstock. When things go horribly wrong however the children and their parents have to make rapid plans if they are not all to end up executed as traitors.

This is a delightful novel, full of little twists of historical detail - did you know for instance that George Washington was distantly related to Lady Diana Spencer? (the Washingtons and Spencers were first cousins in Tudor times). It's a fun adventure story with some lovely insights into some lesser known historical characters. Dr. John Dee is an important adult character, best known now as an alchemist and black magician, he is less well known as a map maker. His work was crucial in the voyages of discovery and conquest that British sailors would make during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

This isn't the best of Harnett's novels - the ending struck me as especially weak, and although her portrayal of Tudor life is fascinating, it is nowhere near as strong as the medieval period, in which she seems really at home. However it's a very enjoyable read, and would, I think, especially appeal to an American audience for its strong links to American history. So not her best, but she is still undoubtedly one of the best historical writers for children ever.


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