Conjurors, spells & a long lost book… The Society of Thirteen

Last October, Moontrug was lucky enough to witness an afternoon of ukeleles and gravedigger grunts with Blue Peter Award-winning¬†author Gareth P Jones – and more recently, Moontrug read Jones’ latest book, The Society of Thirteen. No ukeleles this time, but two 13-year-old orphans and a ‘remarkable object’ that has the potential to unlock ‘the truth about magic’…

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London 1891. Thirteen-year-old orphans Tom and Esther are in a most peculiar situation. Recruited by the enigmatic Lord Ringmore to run errands for his Society of Thirteen, a clandestine group gathering to uncover the mysteries of the occult, they find themselves drawn into an extraordinary world of conjurors, magic and peril. And with the appearance of a mysterious book, a talking magpie and a perplexing green-eyed cat, things are about to get even stranger…

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The book opens with the charismatic Lord Ringmore (who brings to the table, as he himself declares, ‘obvious flair for mystery and melodrama’), exposing the tricks in a magician’s show: ‘This evening you have been entertained not by a mystical medium called Meze, but by a two-bit performer called Maybury. David and William Maybury, a pair of brothers, married to the top and bottom half of poor bisected woman whom you so enjoyed watching being halved this evening.’ And just like that, the book is opened up for a magic that goes beyond magician tricks and escapologist stunts… a magic that lies open to two 13-year-old orphans, Esther and Tom. They’re fabulous characters, street hardy and brave, and always at the heart of the plot: ‘the doors of a cabinet burst open and Tom and Esther crawled out from their hiding place.’

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But Esther and Tom are up against a lot: power hungry adults, ferocious nuns, street thugs (like the brilliantly named Worms and Stump) and two very peculiar animals… The plot is action-packed, and at times pretty scary (as Sir Tyrrell says: ‘There’s always something to fear’) and the endings to Chapters 33 and 66 are superbly done… Above all though, the book is imbued with an earthy magic: ‘The real stories of these lands are not of the battlefields but of the dark, secluded corners where strange things occur, the places where superstitions lurk and folklore thrives.’ The Society of Thirteen is a fast-paced Victorian adventure bursting with magic and perfect for 10+ years who loved Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart series or Rob Lloyd Jones’ Wild Boy. And the book has one of the best ‘child to adult’ one-liners Moontrug has read in a while: ‘You can’t just break into people’s homes and expect them to play cards with you.’ Esther: 1. Harry Clay: 0.