Beth Hilgartner – A Murder for Her Majesty
Length: 242 pages
Genre: Mid-Grade Historical Fiction
Started/Finished: 27 April 2013 (readathon!)
Where did it come from? / Why do I have it? It was one of this year’s SantaThing presents!
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 24 December 2012.
Who would think to look
for a missing girl in a
boys’ cathedral choir?
Summary: Young Alice Tuckfield is out playing when she oversees something terrible – the murder of her father. Unable to go home for fear that the men responsible will find her too, she heads to the nearby city of York in search of a family friend. But young girls are not typically on their own in Elizabethan England, and overwhelmed and alone, she is quickly taken in by the boys of the York Minster Cathedral Choir. Once they discover her musical ability, they disguise her as a boy and hide her in their ranks. But it’s only a matter of time before her true identity is revealed – especially since one of the men involved in the plot against her father works at the cathedral.
Review: This was a solid, enjoyable, mid-grade historical fiction. I probably would have loved it if I’d read it in grade school. And luckily, it made the transition to adult readership pretty well; the plot is obviously pretty simple but it also didn’t feel juvenile, which can be problematic in books for this age level. (In particular, the court politics involving Alice’s father weren’t developed super-strongly.) I do always like the “girls disguising themselves as boys” device in historical fiction (and fantasy), and while this wasn’t the most effective version of this plot I’ve read – most character’s reactions to Alice’s female-ness were a little anachronistically nonchalant – it was still fun. I did enjoy the setting – the life of choir boys in Elizabethan England is not something that I’d ever read (or thought?) about before, and Hilgartner manages to bring the setting to life without large obtrusive sections of description. There’s an obvious love of music, especially choir music, but it’s still perfectly accessible for someone (like me) whose musical background extends no further than childhood piano lessons. All in all, I had a fun time reading this, and can see myself revisiting it as a comfort read. 4 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: It’s not at all thematically similar, but it’s at a similar age level to books like My Brother Sam is Dead. Younger fans of historical fiction should have a good time with this, as well as adult readers who want something easy but not silly. It’s set around Christmastime, so it would be a good winter read.
First Line: Alice was cold.
Vocab: (see the whole list)
- p. 41: “A moment later the organ sounded the final cadence and Master Frost, seeming to materialize out of nowhere, gave the choir the signal to begin the introit.” – A hymn or psalm sung when the ministers enter at the opening of a service, especially in the Anglican Church.
- p. 70: ““Can you write a galliard?”” – A spirited dance popular in France in the 16th and 17th centuries.
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