The Company of Eight
Author: Harriet Whitehorn
llustrator: Maria Surducan
To start with, the cover of this book is gorgeous! I find selecting a book so tricky; a cover like this was an instant head turner. Maria Surducan has illustrated it to perfection. The end papers are printed onto the book cover and depict a map of The Longest World, the imaginary world created by Harriet Whitehorn for the setting of this adventure. I am a sucker for a map, so if the front cover didn’t persuade me then the maps inside had me completely sold. The little flourish that heralded each new chapter was lovely, too.
The story starts with two friends skating at speed through the streets of their town to get to the Circus tent. This town builds quickly within your imagination: the author skilfully brings it to life as you experience it through the two friend’s senses. You almost feel the tingle cold of your skin as you whizz through the streets with them. When they arrive at the tent, Cass and her friend Tig must wait to take their seats as the performance has started. The girls are spellbound from the moment Ravellous, the Circus Master, kicks off the proceedings. The girls whisper of Cass’ appointment at noon the next day to audition for this very circus and her hope of becoming part of the talented troupe performing for them tonight.
Cass lives with her guardian Mrs Potts who bears Cass no ill-will, but certainly has no ambition of great things for her. Cass has been secretly practising the acrobatic talent she has inherited from her father – who along with her mum- is dead. She intends to put these skills to use and, to use the old saying, run away with the circus. She longs to be the girl on the trapeze, in the spotlight and to be part of the circus family. Here, right at the start of the story, we meet the The Lord Protector of the Islands, his son Enzo and his friend Rip. These characters are to play a big part in the story later and I really liked this swift meeting with them at the start of the book: we know just enough about them for when we next meet them within the adventure.
The following day, Cass’ bags are packed, and she has forged a note from Mrs Potts to allow her to take part the Circus boat auditions, but fails to make it out before her guardian finds her and tells her she has something planned and Cass is to come along with her immediately. Cass’ protests are to no avail and despite her best efforts to escape what is basically a contrived interview for a job as a lady’s maid with a local rich woman, Cass misses her audition.
I don’t intend to retell the rest of this adventure story as that would take the fun out of reading this rip-roaring story for yourself! This well created and thoroughly thought out world becomes almost familiar it is so well written. You will travel with Cass on her brave sometimes lonely and often breath-taking adventures, discovering places she had only heard tell of to her discovery of the Company of Eight. I felt as if I were with her as she found friendship, fear, loss, excitement, pain and ultimately a sense of fulfilment and resolution. Never veering into saccharine sweet, I found Cass’ first stirrings of young love touching and beautifully dealt with. All told, a great adventure story, well told.