My rating: 2 of 5 stars
This book promised a lot.
Pansy is on holiday with her friend Atalanta and her grandmother, the most bohemian Nonna. The three of them stay at the seaside and one day Atalanta and Pansy encounter the workhouse children on the beach. Appalled that the children aren’t allowed in the sea, Pansy decides to swap clothes with one of them – Leah – to allow her to bathe. This triggers a series of events that result in Pansy going on the run.
The Workhouse Child left me a bit nonplussed. I picked it up after seeing it referenced as a prequel to Mademoiselle and I had great hopes for it. As the Kirkus review of this book notes, there’s an echo of Joan Aiken in the premise. But that’s pretty much about it. When an Aiken book would glory and exult in this premise, Symons delivers a rather flat version of it. Events occur. They are resolved. Characters appear. They are resolved. It’s very tidily done but sadly rather dull as a result of this.
There were parts of this book that I did enjoy but they were all too brief. The General, the Vicar et al are cliched character creations but sort of lovely nonetheless and I also felt that there was promise in Nonna. In a way, though the entire book is built around it, I wonder if not focusing on Pansy so tightly would have allowed the book to breathe a little bit more than it does at present.