Title: The City of Secret Rivers (City of Secret Rivers #1)
Author: Jacob Sager Weinstein
Publisher: Walker Books
Genre: Older children’s/middle grade fiction, Fantasy, Comedy
Book format: Paperback
Sweet Strawberries: Sweet StrawberrySweet StrawberrySweet StrawberrySweet StrawberrySweet Strawberry

Description: Hyacinth Heyward has only just arrived in London, but she’s already accidentally unleashed magical powers flowing under the city.
Now her mother has been kidnapped by Royal Mail uniform-wearing monsters, and a giant pig in a swimsuit is insisting on an underground tea party.
Her new neighbour, Lady Roslyn, has other plans, and the clock is ticking.  Can Hyacinth save her mother and her city?

*Free copy provided by publisher for review…

Review: This book is hilarious and is such a great adventure full of fantasy and even the real-life strangeness of London. Hyacinth has recently moved to London, from America, where her whole family is originally from. But living in London is hard for Hyacinth, especially as she has to get used to how strange and different British life is, including the fact that hot and cold water aren’t mixed in our taps. One day Hyacinth’s has enough of scolding and freezing her hands, and finds a way to mix both waters together, unleashing a magical force that causes havoc around London.

This story is brilliant, although I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy it when I began reading.  The book is written in the first person making it easy to get into the action from her point of view, but I did find the way it sounded a bit difficult to get into. Hyacinth is twelve years old but sounds more like a teenager in the way she thinks. She’s an interesting character and I did enjoy the book the more I read it, but it sounded different from the many other children’s/middle grade books I’m used to reading.

When Hyacinth accidently unleashes magic into London’s sewers it starts off an adventure into underground London. The adventure is as madcap as you can get and completely fantasy with all sots of weird things happening.  It’s a bit like Alice in Wonderland in how weird everything is but with a lot of humour making it the madcap caper it is!  There are magical rivers that run along the now London sewer system, and all sorts of strange things happening and strange creatures throughout. The story is as daft as it looks on the cover with a very large pig dressed in a swimming costume involved in the action. You’ll find out who this pig is and I just loved his character! The book starts off a bit strange with the slightly older tone and a few things didn’t feel real like Hyacinth being able to do plumbing to fix the taps at just twelve years old, but once you move beyond that the story actually becomes brilliant and you start to understand the way everything is connected.

The hilarious tale becomes one that’s completely believable the more you read on, and it’s interesting because so many parts of the story you can trace back to real life London. The characters have an adventure around the city and visit lots of locations which all become connected with the story. Perhaps it’s my interest in London (the fact I live here) that makes me enjoy this so much but I found it fascinating the way that the story basically explains how everything in London’s history isn’t true and there’s a magical version of history that’s kept secret from everyone. I’ve always enjoyed stories that try to explain the strange things that have happened or exist and this book really does that and in a brilliant way.

The story has a great ending, it’s satisfying but does leave enough unanswered questions to leave you wanting to read the next book in the trilogy. There’s nothing offensive in the book and I think many kids will enjoy it. The slightly older tone might put some off at first, I also didn’t like Hyacinth finding a guy cute, which felt strange to read in the novel (perhaps because it’s a children’s book), and her mum’s silliness was odd, but all of those were forgiven when the story went on and some of these things which still feel out of place might well be explained in rest of the series. There are some illustrations in the book, it’s split into three parts, with each part being given a small illustration at the start of it, as well as one of a few re-occurring illustrations at the start of each chapter and an occasional extra within the text. The back of the book has authors notes and some really interesting information and pictures of some areas of London. It’s actually amazing, once you’ve read the story, to read about the areas of London and how strange they really are, and exactly the way they are described in the book. It makes you wonder if the whole magical fantasy adventure you’ve just read might have some truth to it!

I’ve really enjoyed this first novel and can’t wait for the next in the series. I think older kids will like this as well as possibly some adults. It will definitely appeal to those who those who live in London, or for anyone who is interested in London or a silly adventure.

-Review first appeared online June 2018 – now republished here.

Read review of book 2 – The City of Guardian Stones by clicking here.

Do you like this book?  Have you read any other books about London of city mysteries?  Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂