Maria's Reviews > Gideon the Cutpurse

Gideon the Cutpurse by Linda Buckley-Archer
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Aug 25, 2010

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bookshelves: young-adult-fiction
Read from August 22 to 25, 2010 — I own a copy , read count: 1

For all that this book is titled “Gideon,” it is really about Peter Schock and Kate Dyer, two twelve year-old English children. Peter is the only child of two executives in the film industry who is being raised by his father after his mother, a film producer, leaves for Hollywood to complete a five-year project. Mr. Schock has promised his son a special birthday outing on a couple of different occasions, and then cancelled at the last minute because of work-related issues. Mr. Schock promises that the promised birthday outing will take place, but cancels once again, leaving Peter hurt and betrayed; first his mother leaves and then his father can’t be bothered to spend any time with him. The Schock family’s au pair, Margrit, in an effort to ease Peter’s suffering, offers to take him with her to visit the Dyer family in the country. Once he arrives he meets the Dyer family’s eldest child, Kate, and is invited to go visit the research facility where Dr. Dyer works. All might have been well, but Kate insists on taking the family dog with her; when the dog gets away from the kids they must catch the animal, but in the process come into contact with a device that malfunctions and sends the children back to 1763.

I will digress for a moment to say that I find it humorous that in so many time-travel stories the characters are able to explain their modern clothing by saying they come from a foreign country where such attire is common. Although I understand that such explanations would be acceptable in a culture where there would be no reason to doubt them, it still seems strange that the eighteenth-century characters don’t spend more time questioning nylon materials, zippers, and the rubber in tennis shoes. Several times I had to remind myself that this book was intended for the 10-13 crowd who are only beginning to develop their critical thinking skills and might not think to question the speed with which characters accept, and then ignore the clothing, the kids arrive with. But back to the review!

The children arrive in the past still connected to the machine that transported them and are quickly knocked unconscious by the impact. Unfortunately for them, they happen to land near the notorious Tar Man, a criminal and enforcer for a London crime lord. The Tar man has been in pursuit of a former employee of the crime lord he works for and, as luck would have it, the location of the machine in the present corresponds to the woodland area where the Tar Man has managed to chase his quarry down. The arrival of the strange machine, and equally strange children, however, distracts the Tar Man from his duties long enough for him to load up the machine into his cart and to attempt to steal what he can from the unconscious children. Luckily, the employee the Tar Man was hunting, Gideon Seymour, happens to be hiding in the bushes, and he spooks the horses. The Tar Man races away to catch his cart, and Gideon is able to revive the kids and to offer his help.

The rest of the book follows the children as Gideon takes them with him to his latest job as the manager of the Byng family estate, and then on to London in search of the Tar Man. This book was initially very difficult to read because of the slow pace, and I really didn’t gain any excitement or speed until half way through the story (literally…I was 200 pages in!) The author has also inserted entries from Gideon’s “diary,” written between 1790 and 1792, and these feel awkward and are placed at the end of the chapter that covers the events already described in the chapter. I found these entries to be redundant and not particularly useful in developing the story, but there are few enough of them throughout the book that they were mostly an annoyance.

If this book had a theme, I’m convinced it would be “Thou Shalt Not Steal.” Gideon’s job immediately prior to the start of the book was that of thief for his master, Lord Luxon. Whenever Lord Luxon lost too much of his wealth gambling, Gideon was dispatched to get it back. Gideon’s departure from that household is part of a plan to leave that lifestyle and live with honesty and integrity. Before he can start his new job with the Byng family, he comes into contact with Peter and Kate, and goes extreme lengths to keep them safe and provided for. When Peter discovers Gideon’s criminal past, however, he is instantly suspicious of his new friend and distrustful of his actions despite all Gideon has done for him. Although he eventually overcomes these feelings, his absolute sense of good and evil is typical of a child of that age, and disappointing to a contemporary adult reader who understands that Gideon had few choices given his circumstances and the limitations of eighteenth-century life. Although the point of the book is to tell an adventure story, this might have been an issue that the author could have addressed through the main characters rather than in background descriptions and allusions from a third-person narrative.

The story also deals with the disappearance of the children in the present and how their parents react to the events. Predictably, the Schocks feel guilty about Peter’s disappearance; Mr. Schock remembers that Peter’s last words were “I hate you,” and Mrs. Schock feels like her five-year absorption in the movie she is producing has stolen her attention from her son. The book is a little heavy-handed in its treatment of these self-absorbed parents who don’t stop to consider their child until he is suddenly gone, but I feel that many children of two-income homes have the feelings of abandonment and betrayal that Peter expresses at the beginning of the story. Kate, by contrast, comes from a family with supportive parents, and her angst is limited to the anxiety she feels at having been separated from them and the pain she knows her absence is causing.

Other reviewers have remarked that they were disappointed by the lack of descriptions of historical events, clothes, and customs. It should be noted that author Linda Buckley-Archer includes a note at the end of the book in which she explains that she was more interested in telling a story than trying to recreate a historical period; that being said, she does include a great amount of detail after Peter and Kate reach London. I was a little surprised by the lack of commentary from the children while they were in the countryside, but once they arrive in London they describe important locations, events such as hanging days, and pub life--the original “fast food” of the eighteenth century, when many city dwellers didn’t keep kitchen stoves in the home because of the risk of fires that could burn down entire neighborhoods. Kate complains quite bitterly throughout the entire book about having to wear stays (a corset) and how the combination of her undergarments and voluminous dresses restrict her ability to move, especially with any speed. Also discussed are the sanitation conditions in London (open gutters with running sewage), medical treatments that include bleeding and the laying on of hands by the king or queen, and how Newgate prison operated. There’s a great deal of history in this book, even if it isn’t always described as well as it could be.

This book is the first in the Gideon Trilogy, so I don’t want to give away the ending except to say that it is a cliffhanger. I was a little disturbed that the book does little to set up the trilogy except for its cliffhanger ending, and I am hoping that the rest of the series makes the abrupt ending of the first book seem more reasonable. Although I did not love this book, I did like it, and I wouldn’t have any problem putting it into a classroom and school library, even at the high school level. It was an enjoyable and interesting read once I mastered the tempo and rhythm of the story.
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Reading Progress

08/23/2010 page 29
7.0% "I'm trying to get into this book, really I am!!"
08/24/2010 page 208
50.0% "This story has FINALLY gathered some speed!"
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