It is 1605; Tom Garnett is a 12 year old Catholic boy in a time when Catholics are being persecuted. When his father and mother are arrested for helping a Jesuit priest, Tom, desperate to save his father from hanging, finds himself on the road to London in the company of an enigmatic, formidable stranger known only as the Falcon. The Falcon has promised to help Tom in exchange for his service but on the journey Tom discovers that the deal he has struck maybe far more than he bargained for; in fact, Tom has become embroiled in what must be one of the most famous ‘plots’ in history and as the days count down to his father's execution, suspicion, subterfuge and sinister characters lead to a dreadful decision: save his father or kill the King?

Black Powder is a superb blend of historical fact and fiction that provides young readers with a novel retelling of the Gun Powder Plot.

The story is well paced and never loses its touch with actual history; consequently, Ally Sherrick does not shy away from the cruelties, horrors and hangings of the era -this is handled with care, allowing realism but not excessively grisly detail.

The characters, based in part on the real conspirators, are well developed. In particular, ‘The Falcon’ (the fictionalised Guy Fawkes) is well rounded, allowing the reader to feel, along with Tom, uneasy in his company yet torn between allegiance and betrayal to his cause.

Tom is also well crafted and the reader will empathise with his guilt, grief and indignation at the unfairness of a world where there is one rule for the rich and another for the poor.

Ally Sherrick’s ‘Black Powder’ provides much to discuss for readers in our ‘Moving On’ category. Comparing the Falcon and Tom alone could provide a very interesting debate-both characters are willing to do anything it takes to achieve their objectives: Tom to save the people he loves, the Falcon to end the persecution of his faith. Answers to the question ‘What makes one a worthy hero and one a villain?’ could be fascinating!

Black Powder  by Ally Sherrick

Chicken House    ISBN 978-910655269