In the early days of creating alternative world scenarios, the protagonist entered the other world through some strange happening. Often, it turned out to be a coma. As scientific theories advanced with the idea of string theory somehow postulating branching timelines, parallel universe became more ‘explainable’ though getting there was still a problem. Sometimes, the problem is solved merely by having a single deviation from our reality, a Jonbar Hinge, such as in the books like Len Deighton’s ‘SS-GB’ where Germany succeeded in invading Britain.
In ‘Girl With Cat (Blue)’, author Sam Hawkmoor has taken a slightly different approach. The novel opens in Lundein, a war-torn alternative London. Most people are dead or fled with only a small resistance remaining. Among them is Saska, daughter of the last chancellor who governed the city. Her companion is a rare Blue Lynx.
In contemporary London is Jules. She is dragged along to one of her mother’s charity events and sees a painting of a girl, titled ‘Girl With Cat (Blue)’, who looks very like her accompanied by a blue lynx standing in a ruined city. Not only does her mother buy her the picture but she invites the artist to dinner and, to her horror, Jules is expected to prepare it. Fortunately, her friend McReady comes to her rescue. The artist, Kye, explains that the sitter for the picture is his sister, Saska. To begin with, Jules and McReady think Kye is a little crazy when he explains about the alternative city. The portals, though, are well hidden and he has been unable to find his way back. Saska, meanwhile, is trying to find the route to London her brother took.
Jules and McReady decide to get involved in looking for the tunnels between worlds, especially after Kye’s paintings are stolen and someone tries to acquire the one Jules has by subterfuge. From this point, the contemporary segment takes off Saska’s Lundein is already in crisis.
This book has all the qualities I look for in a YA novel, even though the girls are a little younger than is usual. Both of them are competent, sassy and have a confidence most would envy and neither are encumbered by parents watching their every move. McReady is a likeable foil, resourceful and loyal, everything a friend should be for Jules, as is the blue lynx for Saska. The alternative London is well imagined and believable.
The first half of the novel is excellent but the plot becomes a little frenetic in the later stages and there are some elements, particularly the revelations of the relationship between the two girls, that are not as strong as they might be.
This book was shortlisted for the 2018 Rubery Award for independently published books in the Teen & YA category and justly deserved to be.
(pub: Hammer & Tong, 2017. 357 page hardback. Price: £8.95. ISBN: 978-1-54515-662-9)
check out website: www.samhawksmoor.com/