The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow is a book that, perhaps more than most, starts with that delicious front cover. It is genuinely one of the more beautiful books that I have come across recently; a perfectly balanced cover image with foiled highlights so that when it catches the light, it gleams. I like books like this a lot. I like books that are packaged and presented with this level of care and consideration. It bodes well both for the attitude of the publishers towards the book and the contents therein.
Woodfine’s delicious mystery is set in Sinclair’s – a brand new store opening in London. It’s a store that is very much of the minute and reminiscent of Selfridges, Harrods and Fortnums & Mason – those big, rich and lavish department stores that London is so well known for. (A quick sidebar: I’m researching children’s literature and literary tourism for my PhD and this book practically begs for bits of it to be read in some fancy pants cafe in one of those stores. It sings for it…). Sophie works in the millinery department and becomes embroiled in the theft of the clockwork sparrow – a marvelous piece of automata that sings a different tune every time it’s wound up. But, as ever in all good books, there are layers upon layers in this mystery and Sophie and her friends soon realise that they’re involved in something quite dastardly indeed.
I’m starting to sense a new wave of children’s literature around detectives and sleuthing, and it’s something that I really rather love. The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow sits superbly well alongside the perfect delight that is the perfect Wells and Wong series by Robin Stevens, and for slightly younger readers something like the Sesame Seade mysteries Sesame Seade mysteries. There’s a lot more here that I could name, but what all of the three that I’ve picked out have in common are brave and strong heroines who choose their own destinies in contexts that quite often are not conducive to such an act. That’s a big thing to have in books and it’s something that I have and will continue to highlight as important and relevant.
The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow amalgamates shopping and sleuthing in such a confident and all encompassing manner that you know you’re at the start of something great. Woodfine’s prose is deeply confident and embracing; at points, it’s so rich that it almost becomes a love letter towards London and the elements that construct it savoury or no. She also deeply knows her era and there’s some rich elements here that will deeply appeal to fans of Girl’s Own literature. It is also the beginning of a series.