Doan, Lisa. The Alarming Career of Sir Richard Blackstone
February 7th 2017 by Sky Pony Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline
Henry Hewitt is on the run from abusive parents who want to sell him off as a chimney sweep in Victorian London when he runs in to the very man he is seeking-- Dr. Richard Blackstone, who wants an assistance for his scientific experiments. Impressed by Henry's handling of a poisonous spider, he immediately hires the boy and whisks him off to his manor in the country. Henry is pleased to be given new clothes, a soft place to sleep, and plenty of food provided by the friendly housekeeper, Mrs. Splunket, and settles into a routine of cleaning up the messes and feeding the exotic animals. When Sir Richard accidentally makes a tarantula into a giant, and the spider gets loose during a neighboring Duchess' croquet party, the local authorities, headed by Mr. Snidefellow, come after Sir Richard. Along with fellow servant Billy Brash, Henry sets out to track down the giant tarantula and to figure out why the powder has different effects on different creatures. Along the way, he adopts a puppy, impresses the duchess, and finds out secrets about his own family.
Strengths:This was the best sort of historical fiction: lots of details about living in another time without belaboring them; a fast-moving, cohesive plot; supportive adults who need the help of a child; an English manor house; and a giant tarantula. Nothing fancy, nothing fantastic, just good, solid entertainment. Added bonus-- I didn't see the secret of Henry's family until ten pages before he did. Good stuff.
Weaknesses: Could have used a little more information and description about Henry's horrible life in London so that moving to the country was even more of a relief. Also, the cover is not great.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing a copy and will force it into the hands of students. Sky Pony usually does a good job with having larger print, which will make this easy to give to readers who like Stewart's Barnaby Grimes books.