The Black Crow Conspiracy by Christopher Edge

The Black Crow Conspiracy: Christopher Edge (Nosy Crow, 2014)The Black Crow Conspiracy is the last in a trilogy of historical-alternate-history-mystery-horror-paranormal tales that started with Twelve Minutes to Midnight, and continued with Shadows of the Silver Screen. Although I commented that the first two books started more slowly (which is not a negative), this is not the case for The Black Crow Conspiracy which starts with glowing phantasms stealing the Crown Jewels within the first few pages.

Two years have passed since Shadows of the Silver Screen, and Penelope Tredwell is now nearly sixteen and suffering writer’s block. Sales of The Penny Dreadful have fallen without Montgomery Flinch’s stories and things are looking bleak until Penny hits on the idea of asking the public for plot ideas, as a competition.

Little does Penny know that the ‘fake confession’ she uses as the basis for a thrilling tale turns out to be real, and before she knows it Montgomery Flinch has been arrested for treason. This starts a thrilling hunt for the real Black Crow, with a backdrop of Edward VII’s coronation, stolen Crown Jewels, missing royalty, hints of the First World War, and state-of-the-art science.

The radiant boys come straight from a 1950′s B-movie. It would give too much away to say how they fit into the plot, but it’s a fun idea used to great effect and tinged with the mild horror you’d expect from a Penelope Tredwell novel.

Our heroine is back to full force after being slightly weakened in Shadows of the Silver Screen, and all the supporting cast are all included, but this is very much Penelope’s story. This is the last of the trilogy, something that you can guess from the last chapter, but there’s plenty of scope for more tales to fill the two years between Shadows and Black Crow if the author chooses to return to this world.

I am very fond of the Twelve Minutes to Midnight trilogy. One of the things that particularly appeals to me is that they are stories with a female protagonist which can appeal to boys and girls equally. There is much written about how boys will only read books about boys, whereas girls will read either, used as an excuse for main characters being predominantly male.

Even if this is true, Penelope Tredwell is a character who transcends stereotypes. She is absolutely female, not a male part with a girl’s name tacked on, and deals with the prejudices of her time because of this. The plots aren’t stereotypical either, and don’t fit a single genre so have wide appeal.

The alternative-history theme is a gateway to discovering more about the times written about, and the use of real-life historical figures gives a starting block for those discoveries. As my daughters are only six and four, these are not books for them to read yet, but I will be keeping ‘my’ copies to pass on and can’t wait to find out what inspiration they will give.

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