Friday, 24 July 2015

Ghosts of Shanghai by Julian Sedgwick

The Restless
Amidst shadows and dragons and watchful, crumbling statues Ruby Harkner crouches in a corridor of White Cloud Temple, sweat prickling her paper-pale skin, heart bumping like mad – waiting to catch her first ghost.

Published by Hodder Children's Books July 2015
360 pages (read via NetGalley)
The stylish Art Deco cover is by Michelle Brackenborough, 
includes useful maps and notes by the author.

Summary from publisher’s website
Obsessed with martial arts and ghost stories, Ruby is part of a gang of Chinese and ex-pat children who hide out in ruined White Cloud Temple. But the world of Shanghai in the late 1920s is driven with danger: disease, crime, espionage and revolution are sweeping the streets. And since the death of her younger brother Thomas, Ruby is stalked by another anxiety and fear. 
Faced with a series of local hauntings, and armed with a lucky bookshop find - The Almanac of Distant Realms - Ruby forms the Shanghai Ghost Club to hunt down restless spirits. When best friend Fei is kidnapped by the Green Hand, Ruby must trust a mysterious stranger - and face her worst fears - in order to save her friends, and her own life. And in the ensuing fight she will catch a glimpse of the one spirit she has longed to see...
The secrets that Ruby's father and friends have kept from her are coming back to haunt them all.
****

As a child I loved ‘The Water Margin’ – a martial arts TV costume drama series shown in the 70s. It had honourable bandits and fighting princesses – with twin swords. Why wouldn’t I love it?
Only later did I learn that it was based on an ancient Chinese text dating from the 14th century. Julian Sedgwick took his love of ‘The Water Margin’, and ‘Monkey’ much further: it led him to study Chinese and Philosophy at University. His knowledge of Chinese culture and history permeates Ghosts of Shanghai like the scent of Joss sticks in a temple.
First-rate world building, or rather revealing, is not enough. There has to be momentum pulling us through the setting. This adventure story has it running along on speedy tramlines. Our bold heroine and her friends tackle mysteries and danger which spring from a powerful combination of magic and intrigue. You have to know what will happen next.
I am often bored by fight scenes – but the martial arts sequences here kept me engaged with their vigour and simplicity. I am also irritated by historical characters with over-modern attitudes. Not so with this tale – I find 1920s Ruby and her family utterly believable.
There is peril, violence, some frightening and some poignant moments – but nothing a competent young reader can’t handle. Not suitable for those who are unnerved by ghosts (the clue’s in the title) but it will thrill those who like a mix of the supernatural and history. The only problem with Ghosts of Shanghai is that the sequel won’t be around till next year.

PS I have it on reliable authority (the author’s) that the sequel will include “steamboats on a darkened Yangtze river, bandits and more spooks!”

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