Set on a ship-theatre, docked in a gloriously stinking, tatterdemalion alt-Bristol, Mouse Heart is the tale of a theatre-orphan turning detective to save her friend from the gallows and the fictional Queen Anne II from assassination.
Mouse was an abandoned baby, found by Dog, rescued by Walter, and adopted by the rag-tag troupe who run the Moth Theatre. There is artifice and sleight-of-hand everywhere. Costumes, cosmetics, and the audiences’ belief create illusions; Kwadwo, in hiding since he ran away from the family who bought him, builds new worlds in his scenery, and Mouse’s gymnastics with siblings Eve and Adam distract from the mechanics of working the stage. With Walter imprisoned for murder, and charismatic Valentina behaving strangely, Mouse goes in disguise through the city hunting for clues, dismayed to find them leading back to the Moth.
City and theatre are ripely detailed, and vivid; life is hard, chances are few, but opportunities, in one way, are limitless. The setting recalls Sally Gardner’s excellent Invisible in a Bright Light but there is nothing ethereal here; there is no fantasy except in the patched-together pieces of what history could have been that are home to this sprightly and engrossing tale. The life of the (fantastically prosaic) monarch depends not on magic but bravery, quick wits, and fast reactions. Mouse negotiates the city’s dangers, a spy’s ingenuity, and her own reputation as a ‘soft little cub’, to take the lead in a thrilling, dangerous confrontation that makes spectacular use of the theatre.