OH I loved this book so much!! It ticks so many boxes; historical, coming of age and revealing of secrets, puzzle boxes and mysteries both physical and metaphorical and wrapped up in the context of stage magic.
If you loved the frantic code and puzzle breaking escape across cities of The Da Vinci Code, if you loved the Hugh Jackman/ Christian Bale film The Prestige, are interested in stories that promote STEM pursuits, and you want a strong female cast then you MUST READ The Golden Butterfly!
Luciana is grieving, she feels the world has lost its magic as her grandfather, the great stage magician The Magnificent Marko is no longer in it. Adding insult to injury the dastardly Thurlby searches her grandparents’ home for the secret to a magic trick performed only once but set the magical world alight with delight and envy.
Luciana must find the secrets to the Golden Butterfly before it is lost or falls into the wrong hands.
Solving puzzle boxes and secret compartments across London, Luciana revisits the past and uncovers more than illusions and revelations in the process.
She reached out again, running her fingers over the pieces of wood that had moved. They were uneven now. She pressed one here and there, wondering if there was one sort of release that had to be activated, but although several of the spurs did push in with a click, still nothing happened.
The writing is incredibly immersive and you are clearly orientated in the dismal drizzle of wintery Victorian England and immediately care for Luciana and Charley and there were tears shed by the end with the revelations. Here were hints and nudges clearly written in but like any good magic trick Gosling keeps the glittery distraction until she is ready to reveal the plot developments.
Luciana is a force of nature, she’s hungry for knowledge, and has a self-confidence to go get what she wants even if it means breaking the rules and yet she also has moments of frustration and self doubt making her a realistic character that children can resonate with.
Charley too is a great character in his devotion to and belief in Luciana, but his background means he has slightly more worldliness and an intuitive edge that means he sometimes sees intentions that others do not.
Mr Hibberd leaned back with another huff of laughter “Why my dear, it is well known that a woman’s mind does not possess the necessary levels of natural intelligence that are required to master the magical arts.”
This book is a wonderful exploration of the social expectations and experience of those without moneyed male privilege in late Victorian society.
Although Luciana has grown up in the comfort of money, as a girl she is frustrated by the limits placed on society by so-called gentleman and those women place on themselves and each other of behaviours, pursuits and companions. Her frustrations as the veils are removed deepen as the book progresses to a coming of age awakening.
‘You’re saying Charley and I can’t be friends?’ She asked. ‘Just because he doesn’t have as much money as we do?’
Furthermore and cleverly, at the start she is blinded to the privilege she has compared to her best friend Charley and fails to understand the tentative request of her grandmother to end her friendship before it gets too uncomfortable to diverge paths.
We see hints of the path that Charley would have open to him as the son of a live-in housekeeper, furthermore the lives of people in theatres who live in rooms not houses, the kitchen-hand Fervent or indeed the young boy at Charing Cross who sleeps under a bridge.
As these veils fall away we see Luciana become frustrated and wish to forge a meaningful path rather than one that is expected.
At the man’s words Luciana was suddenly angry, filled with an indignant fury. How dare he? she thought. How DARE he? I’ll show him.
This is such a powerful journey towards feminism and social empathy and one that may inspire many children to consider the inequalities in the world around them; those that they may benefit from and those that they do not.
I enjoyed this book so thoroughly, I immediately went searching for Sharon’s other writing and have ordered The Diamond Thief (Curious Fox/Capstone) to enjoy!!
The Golden Butterfly by Sharon Gosling is published by Stripes Books and available online and from good bookshops.
Many thanks to Stripes Books for my copy, this has not affected my opinion.
If you enjoyed the discussion & themes regarding the dichotomy of rich and poor, and female lives and opportunities in Victorian era I highly recommend you check out The Steam Whistle Theatre Company by Vivian French too.