Tilly’s life is falling apart. She needs the support of her family and friends, but she is so angry, she’s pushed them away. How can she bear to visit her father, who has left to be with Bunny and her three children? And why should she have to look after her annoying younger brother, who probably drove Dad away in the first place? Mum is always on her back to do jobs around the house and Tilly’s school friends are beginning to exclude her. Even her fencing coach has warned she must not let her anger get the better of her.
A visit to Aunt Kara’s, however, when Mum goes away for a few days, sets Tilly on a course she could never have dreamed of. Or could she?
When Tilly complains about having to do a history assignment on the French Revolution, Aunt Kara searches out a family heirloom – a beautiful ruby pendant – and relates to Tilly the story of her French ancestry. She is surprised to hear she has been named after Amelie-Mathilde-Louise-de Montjoyeuse, and that Mathilde – her real name – means “battle mighty”, like a courageous warrior.
That night, when Tilly realises she is still wearing the pendant and rubs its fiery surface, she falls into a deep and graphic dream about Amelie-Mathilde. The following night, after spending all day researching the French Revolution with renewed vigour, something very peculiar happens: the troubled Tilly timeslips into the eighteenth century where she tries to help Amelie-Mathilde and her cousin Henri – both of the French aristocracy – escape the terrors of the Revolution. Poor Amelie, though she lives in the opulence of the Palace of Versailles with her aunt and uncle, must marry the horrible old Chevalier. She wishes that someone could rescue her.
This is the story of three companions, who find themselves, along with their monkey and dog, in the middle of a dangerous adventure that pits them against the might of an ugly and terrifying uprising. Belinda Murrell has certainly done her homework. The story is jam-packed with facts about the French Revolution and life of the times. There is even a glossary of French words at the beginning and “Fast Facts on the French Revolution” at the end. There is a sense that Murrell has tried too hard to squeeze in all of her research, which translates into some overwriting, but even so, she takes the reader on a thrilling ride through the putrid streets of Paris and French countryside of 1789 as Tilly, with her knowledge of the future, tries to persuade her new friends to leave France for the safety of England.
This book should be enjoyed by girls in their early teens. It deals with the themes of loss, resilience, tenacity, friendship and hope.
Random House 2010
(A version of this review appears in Magpies Vol 25, Issue 4, September 2010)