In the winter of 1683-84 a severe frost hit the city of London. It was so cold that a huge section of the river Thames completely froze and boats were no longer needed to travel along it. The residents of the city seized the opportunity to build a frost fair full of stalls, entertainment and activities on top of the frozen river. You could eat plum cake and pancakes, watch bearbaiting or puppet shows, and buy treats from one of the many sellers who traded their wares along the icy floor. It is against this magical, wintry wonderland backdrop that Natasha Hastings’ has set her charming historical debut novel, The Miraculous Sweetmakers: The Frost Fair.
Thomasina Burgess is one of the ‘sweetmakers’ of the title. Her young life is deeply affected by loss and the impact of grief but, with the arrival of the frost fair, a magical opportunity presents itself to her. A mysterious, frosty visitor calls on her one night and offers her an impossible chance to change the past. He entices her into the world of an enchanted frost fair that comes to life when the rest of the city sleeps. But is everything as it seems or is Thomasina risking too much to make amends for the tragedy she blames on herself?
And, just as this new stranger offers her something magical, Thomasina also makes friends who show her that new things are possible and that she can have control over her own future while coming to terms with the past. Can they help her to solve the mystery of the icy stranger and the night-time frost fair before it’s too late?
The Thames frost fairs are a wonderful real-life starting point for a fairy-tale story and The Miraculous Sweetmakers vividly brings the 1683-83 fair to life in its historical form but even more so when Thomasina visits it in its nocturnal form.
Hastings is a confident and imaginative storyteller who has conjured a beautiful and enchanting world that contains shades of something much darker. She casts a spell that twists together the magical and historical into something enormously moving and full of hope. Thomasina’s loss and the emotional effects of grief on her and her family are brilliantly realised. This is a lovely story about the power of friendship and the ways that we can help those we love. The author should also be commended for including characters who suffer from asthma and mental illness. These are illnesses that not only impact the lives of many of those who will read this book, but it is important to see that they also have a historical context.
The book is filled with gorgeous illustrations by Alex T Smith, and I’m delighted that The Miraculous Sweetmakers is the first book in a series and will be very happy to re-join Thomasina and her friends on their next adventure.
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