by Ian Beck
Published: Bloomsbury 2009
• Sam Hawksmoor review
Lose Yourself in Old London - delight in the antics of adorable urchins begging for change.
It had to happen, some bright spark decided to write Westworld for kids. (If you don’t know what Westworld is, it’s a cowboy resort where you can experience the wild west – see a lawless life in the raw, witness real gunfights and death and go home again to your modern, safe world afterwards. (Only something goes wrong… and the cowboys aren’t quite what they seem).
That said, PastWorld by Ian Beck is a great yarn and will impress young readers.
It is set in 2050; London has been converted into a giant, lawless Victorian theme park complete with Dickensian beggars, thieves and murderers, seances and airships that glide over the city. There are authentic smells, fogs, steam trains and yes you can meet the muffin man, experience the murder trail and if you are very unlucky be eviscerated by the Fantom who will literally rip your head off and steal your heart. The children who live there don't even know this is a resort and like the Trueman Show, believe it all to be real.
Eve, a young beautiful girl with piercing blue eyes lives in this world, has grown up here, guarded by the blindman Jack who is very protective of her. She is a virtual prisoner, cooking and cleaning for her Jack. She has no knowledge of her parents and sees only this damp foggy world. She longs for more and keeps a diary recording her thoughts.
Meet Caleb, also with the strange blue eyes, visiting from the outside to Pastworld with his father for the first time. Excited to be in period costume to fit in, little suspecting that his father knows much more about the workings of this world than he has let on. Caleb is scared and thrilled and they have been invited to the great Halloween party by the owner of the resort, the mysterious Mr Buckland.
| But someone is looking for Eve. An evil man who wants to do her great harm and she, unsuspecting of the terrible fate that awaits her and unable to take the boring confines of her world anymore, has fled to the circus and is training to be a tight-rope walker.
Then there’s Bible J, who is a tea-leaf and works for the fake medium Mr Leighton and in the streets lie the evil ragged men who work under a spell of the Fantom.
Eve discovers she has a special talent, Caleb watches his father be kidnapped, the blind man killed and he is suddenly wanted for murder. Bible J has fallen for Eve, and the cat lady knows her secret. Eve thinks she is safe hidden in the world of the circus people but she will be betrayed by her very talent.
Ian Beck has conjured up a convincing and very detailed Victorian world populated by lifers (the ones who belong there) and gawkers, (the ones pay for thrills).
The plot is very Phantom of the Opera and even harks back to Metropolis. Perhaps there are no new plots. Nevertheless spending time with Caleb, Eve, Bible J and Sergeant Catchpole of Scotland Yard whose job it is to find Eve before the Fantom does is a lot of fun and there are many surprises along the way.