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Song of the Slums by Richard Harland

Song of the Slums

by Richard Harland

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An absorbing, page-turning story about fame, changing fortunes and music, set in an alternative Victorian world, from the brilliant creator of Worldshaker...

Set in an alternative nineteenth-century England, Harland's lively novel finds 17-year-old Astor Vance thinking she has been engaged to a scion of the fabulously wealthy Swale family. Imagine her horror when she learns that, instead, she has been pressed into service as a governess to the odious Swale children. Discovering a dangerous family secret, Astor must then flee for her life, accompanied by her manservant, the mysterious Verrol. To survive, the two join a Slumtown street gang and, using their musical talents, become a member of the group's band, the Rowdies, whose music smacks suspiciously of rock and roll! Improbably, the group becomes a sensation, its fame attracting the Swale brothers, who propose a partnership that will profit both them and the band. It sounds plausible, but Astor is suspicious and wonders if the plutocrats have a deeper, more nefarious purpose in mind. What might it be, and how will the troubled relationship between Astor and Verrol play out? Though riddled with improbabilities, Australian author Harland's gaslight romance remains engaging and will hold readers' attention to its suspenseful end.--Cart, Michael Copyright 2014 Booklist
  lkmuir | Nov 23, 2015 |
I'll admit I was wary when I opened the package from Allen & Unwin and found this book inside. I'd never heard of it, and although I love steampunk and alternate history, I worried about how much I could enjoy a book so centrally focussed on music - after all, I know next to nothing about music. I shouldn't have worried: Song of the Slums is a delightful read, rhythmic and romantic at the same time.

The book begins with Astor, who thinks she's about to wed the handsome plutocrat Lorrain Swale. To her horror (and mine), she's abandoned by her mother and step-father and forced to become a governess for the Swale children - petulant, stubborn and disagreeable creatures, all three of them. I sympathised with Astor's plight, and admired her tenacity as she continued teach the children every day, despite their hostility. When the children turn on her and she's forced out of the household, Astor relies heavily on her servant Verrol, who, it turns out, has secrets of his own. Their only hope for survival is to join a street gang. It's a far cry from the luxury Astor is accustomed to, but she adapts remarkably well, and I liked witnessing the vibrant, smoky atmosphere through her eyes.

The camaraderie between members of the slum gangs is endearing, and I liked the relationships between the members of the band, The Rowdies. The band coalesces wonderfully, and they grew to love and respect one another, and I relished the attachment between the only two girls in the band, Mave and Astor. The Song of the Slums explores their friendships and bonds, and also allows love to blossom in the unlikeliest of places, and I laughed a lot reading about the characters bumble over their romances.

Behind the basic plot-line of survival is another story, one of poverty, courage, politics and war, which the slum gangs get involved in because of the influence of their music. Song of the Slums cleverly explores the consequences of war, the ex-soldiers and heavy industrialisation that have no place in a world of peace, the plight of the slum children who were press-ganged into service, and the power music has over all our souls. The book isn't heavy-handed with these concepts, but they allow for a richer plot, filled with nuance and intrigue.

Readers with a soft spot for steampunk will appreciate the gaslight fantasy of The Song of the Slums, and readers looking for quick, absorbing read will not go wrong by picking it up. I am very glad I read this, and I think you will be too.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review.
You can read more of my reviews at Speculating on SpecFic. ( )
1 vote alcarinqa | Apr 21, 2013 |
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Seventeen-year-old Astor thinks she is about to wed the handsome plutocrat Lorrain Swale. But to her horror, her mother and stepfather abandon her, and she finds herself a lowly governess in the Swale household. Treated with contempt by the whole family, Astor is determined to escape. Help arrives unexpectedly in the form of the charismatic and mysterious Verrol. Together they plunge into the slums of Brummingham and find themselves in a street band, making wild music - a new kind of music that takes the world by storm. But the Swale brothers haven't finished with them yet.… (more)

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