By Author / Illustrator
Kieran Larwood, Sam Usher
Mystery & Detective
Faber & Faber
Paperback / softback
A wonderfully murky, carnivalesque world of intrigue, unexpected friendships and mysteries solved. Sheba the wolf girl joins an unusual troupe of performers that includes Pyewacket, a witch's imp; Gigantus the giant and Sister Moon, a knife thrower. For the first time in her life she feels she might make true friends, and learn a real stage craft. But soon that's not all she has to think about... Children are being sucked into the Thames and there have been strange sightings of a mechanical monster. The carnival troupe know first-hand that looks only tell half a story - they become determined to find these forgotten children. Perhaps they will unravel the mystery that has defied even the law!
Illustrated with black and white artwork from superstar illustrator, Sam Usher, and the first in a brand new series! 'Thrilling, original, full of zest and wit.' The London Times 'A page-turning adventure.' The Daily Mirror
Find out more in this Q&A with author Kieran Larwood
Carnival of the Lost is a wonderfully atmospheric adventure set in the grimy streets of Victorian London. Sheba is an eight year old orphan, and is a wolf-girl. Covered in hair from head to foot, she is sold to Mr Gideon Plumpscuttle and joins his troupe of unusual performers. Along with Gigantus the strong man, Sister Moon the knife-thrower, Pyewacket the fortune teller and Mama Rat and her performing rat circus, Sheba goes to live in Brick Lane, London, where Plumpscuttle charges people to view their various talents.
One evening, a young girl, Till, a mudlarker, visits the carnival and befriends Sheba. When Till vanishes from the banks of the Thames, Sheba and the rest of the performers investigate. They discover that other children from poor backgrounds have also gone missing, and there are rumours of a strange mechanical monster being spotted in the river. The troupe of disparate friends are drawn into a dangerous adventure as they search for Till. We are introduced to an amazing cast of characters, including the nasty Mrs Crowley, who is truly villainous and unpleasant. Sheba and her friends face danger and evil as they race through the streets of London in search of the lost children.
The action never flags in this brilliant novel. The author brings London to life wonderfully, describing the scents and sounds of the streets perfectly. The reader is given a real insight into the history of the city; the addition of footnotes giving extra detail in an informative and amusing fashion. We learn about the Great Exhibition, Michael Faraday and Victorian toilets among many other things!
The characters are just perfect. Sheba is lovely, a lost and lonely little girl at the start of the story, she has only very faint memories of her life before she joined the carnival. She longs for friends and a family, and during the course of the book we see her transform from a 'timid little girl' into someone 'strong and ferocious' when those she loves are threatened. By the end of the book, she realises that she has found her family and has learned to love herself for who she is. I particularly loved Gigantus, the huge strong man, who is secretly writing a romantic novel under the name Gertrude Lacygusset! Sister Moon becomes the friend Sheba has always craved and Mama Rat is a mother figure to the whole group.
Some aspects of the story are quite scary; the scene in which Sheba discovers exactly what Mrs Crowley and her brother are planning to do with the captured children sent a shiver down my spine. The author cleverly wraps up the story in a series of newspaper reports, a device which works well in tying up all the loose ends. Special mention must also go to Sam Usher, whose detailed black and white illustrations perfectly complement the story and help to bring the author's beautifully written words to life. Even the black sprayed edges of the book add something special, seeming to represent the grime and soot of the London air.
In short, I loved this book and very much hope that Mr Larwood has more adventures planned for Sheba and her wonderful group of friends.
384 pages / Reviewed by Beverley Somerset, school librarian
Suggested Reading Age 9+
Orphaned eight-year-old Sheba is purchased by Plumpscuttle and brought to London to join his Carnival Troupe. Here she meets Pyewacket, a so-called witch's imp; Gigantus the Giant, Mama Rat and Sister Moon, a knife thrower. In exchange for bed and board, she is expected to perform by terrifying carnival visitors and transforming into the wild wolf that lives inside her.
Sheba is used to being treated heartlessly solely based upon her unique looks so when Till, a mudlark, shows her kindness, it comes as a pleasant surprise. Sheba finally feels like she has made her first friend. However, children are going missing and being sucked into the river Thames by a strange mechanical monster. When Till goes missing her poor parents turn to the Carnival performers for help. When no one else seems to be interested in solving the mystery, the troupe combines their individual talents to track down the missing mudlarks. "This city’s full of evil, you know. Murderers, thieves, baby farmers grave-robbed bodies...tales you wouldn't believe. London ain't no kind of place to be growing up in. Not if you're paupers like that lot." So, it takes a group of unloved misfits to try to find a group of children that society does not value.
Carnival of the Lost is an action-packed adventure story where Sheba, 'The Wolf Girl', finds her place in the world amongst a troupe of performers. This book describes gothic Victorian London in vivid detail. It really is a feast for the senses. I found this book to be a real page turner. It was filled with interesting and varied characters - with truly evil villains - and the storyline was fresh and unpredictable. It was impossible for me to guess what would happen next.
Carnival of the Lost also weaves in a lot of history and has a notes section at the back of the book containing even more interesting insights into Victorian London. The historical element - the Great Exhibition, inventions and mechanical creations - give this book wide appeal.
This is a fascinating mystery which is beautifully illustrated by Sam Usher throughout. I loved Sheba's resilience and acceptance of herself. Even when times are dark, she never gave up. "This is who I am, she said to herself. I don't need to hide behind the wolf. Let them see my furry skin, my pointed nails. Let them snigger and say cruel things about me. I don't care what they think. I am proud. I am me."
If you are looking for an action-packed mystery, steampunk adventure that will keep you hooked until the end, pick Carnival of the Lost. It is quite simply a fantastic read.
384 pages / Reviewed by Clair Bossons, school librarian
Suggested Reading Age 9+