The Company of Eight- Harriet Whitehorn

Wow, oh wow. This Female Odyssean adventure is just so intensely brilliant and appeals to so much of my imagination from its fantasy world setting, feminist attitude and it’s classic adventure story with Homeric undertones.

I had heard of this book by the author of the Violet illustrated stories and wanted to know more so when I got the opportunity to read this and the sequel The Conspiracy of Magic I literally leapt for joy.

Book Cover for The Company of Eight by Harriet Whitehorn
Cover design by Maria Surducan

Cassandra Malvino wants to be an acrobat like her father, unfortunately since she didn’t turn out to be magical and a fortune teller like her mother, her guardian Miss Potts is determined to turn her into a proper lady, and if not at least a proper lady’s companion.

When these machinations cause Cassandra to miss the Circus auditions but crash into the handsome son of Lord Bastien, she is inspired to set sail for the Island of Women where her mother grew up and to hone her craft for another year.

Yet fate shines a light on Cass for good or for bad when she comes once again into the path of the Palace Ship, whose invitation brings her into a world of secrets, lies and terrible peril.

“You have a star over your head, Cass. It’s faint because it’s you but it’s definitely there.”

Cass is the anti-Cinderella for me (and you may be aware of my strong opinions on the matter!!)- whilst admittedly she doesn’t have a wicked Stepmother she does live in an environment where she is stifled and expected to sit nicely, look pretty and find the right Charming man to marry. Yet over the course of the story she emancipates herself several times over, from planning to run away with the circus, to actually running away on a goatboat and further actions she mindfully takes to be in charge of her own destiny… and without magic.

Every night Cass went to bed with her brain humming and a new bruise, and she was so stiff and sore in the morning that even getting out of bed was agony. But she could feel it paying off- her balance and strength were excellent and her mind felt focused and sharp

Because Cass is an obtuse, that is a person without magic all her skills, her strengths and achievements whilst allowing for some innate talents are from sheer determination and grit to succeed. From a young age she makes herself the maker of her own destiny as she practices her acrobatics and stretching exercises religiously instead of wishing on a star. Cass is a girl of action, of gumption and refuses to accept a life half lived and is a fantastic role model for young readers.

They were cut off by a third figure appearing, blocking their escape, who launched itself at the woman, ripping the purse off her and sending her flying across the courtyard…

Furthermore I love the swashbuckling classic adventure that feels like Odysseus meets Gulliver in a 1950s Saturday morning double feature picture show with its island hopping adventures, high flying circus acrobatics and combat with pirates and slave traders. But with empowered female characters throughout.

For its not just Cass who we see as a strong independent woman, we see a whole cast of women with skills we may see as traditionally masculine in fantasy and adventure and the strength and value of women is honoured even with the respect for the Island of Women as a sanctuary for women and children. This empowered feminist adventure is great to see for young readers to normalise girls with grit and gumption as much as young men.

It was just a moment and at the time Cass thought little of it. But, with everything that was to happen afterwards, she would remember it for her whole life

Harriet Whitehorn has created a wonderful sense of adventure and immersing the reader in this intense world and really get a feel for the shift and sway of Cass’ adventure on the seas of the Longest World.

I for one was bowled over by this tale and devoured the book in one sitting and was very glad to have the follow up close to hand as I was engaged and involved in Cass’ world.

The Company of Eight by Harriet Whitehorn is published by Stripes Books.

Thank you so much for my copy 💜

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