Forged in the Fire

No Shame, No Fear was shortlisted for both the Whitbread Children’s Book Award and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize in 2004. This sequel continues the story of young 17th-century lovers, Will and Susanna, a story containing many universal themes – romance, struggle against parental disapproval, not being able to afford to marry and set up home – set against a background of plague in the fire-ridden London of 1666.

As members of the Society of Friends (Quakers), Will and Susanna face the intolerance and disapproval of a society torn apart by over a century of religious strife between Catholics and Protestants. Will is arrested for his beliefs, and thrown into the hideous prison of Newgate, where he is tortured by turnkeys and forced to endure the sight of two of his friends dying of plague. On his release, a misunderstanding with Susanna keeps them apart, until finally they are reunited and can marry.

Turnbull has an evocative and authentic voice, and her descriptions of Pepys’ era London are brilliant. The sights, sounds, smells and general physicality of Newgate prison are almost tangible, and she is equally strong when depicting the effects of plague and fire on a London far smaller and more communal than the massive, anonymous sprawl of today. The narrative voice switches between Susanna and Will – this works well as it allows the reader to get a sense of both as fully fleshed-out characters. Tension builds as the lovers face and overcome obstacles keeping them apart until finally they can marry and have the home they’ve long wished for.

Turnbull has created an enjoyable, enthralling story. The writing is great and it even manages to be slyly educational! Highly recommended: 12+.