I've never read a children's book quite like The Curious Crime. The enticing title and enchanting front cover was enough to grab my attention for this 19th century inspired science fantasy, murder-mystery. But Julia Golding has written a story far more greater than the cover will ever reveal. A story that I believe will inspire and empower readers for years to come.
Set in a wonderfully vast museum, a museum quoted by Golding as 'inspiring possibilities of a Hogwarts, but also a Sherlock Holmes mind palace', The Curious Crime tells the story of Ree, a talented female stonemason, and Henri, a scholar from North Africa, who join together to solve a murder and prove their innocence.
Golding has created an alternative Victorian era, where women are considered to not have the capacity to practice science, and where religious thoughts and beliefs have been deemed incompatible with science. The concept of theophily is banned, whilst phrenology is a respected and valid theory, and students are only taught to ask 'how', and the root of 'why' is forbidden. But within this magnificent museum the story of science is mapped out through its open rooms and abandoned chambers, exotic (but now sadly extinct) animals roam the corridors, and an underground network of passages lead to hidden yet exciting possibilities.
Not only is this a fantastic book that inspires and encourages children to be empowered when it comes to asking questions, it also champions and celebrates women and minority groups in science. Golding is a master at writing strong female characters, and The Curious Crime doesn't fall short on those. Not only is there the protagonist Ree, an inspiring young heroine who is prevented from following her creative passion as a talented stonemason. But despite being confined to cleaning the halls at night as a maid, Ree is never afraid to follow her true passions. She's determined, curious and one to always stand up for herself and others. There are also a number of other women always trying to stay true to their inner moral codes despite the system that is set up against them. Like the housemaid who teaches herself mathematics from one of the museum displays and later moves to the accounts department. And then there's Dr Hypatia, my personal favourite. A mysterious doctor, a female animal collector and the youngest ever head of the Biological Sciences department. Despite being shunned from her academy post though and forced to become a hidden outlaw in the museums wild lands, Dr Hypatia is, in the most basic terms, a badass!
And speaking of Dr Hypatia, her and Dr Hamid's relationship is one that we need to see more of across children's literature. Despite being two very different people, with two very different views and opinions, particularly that on religion, they still respect and appreciate each others views and beliefs. For me personally, I haven't read many books that explore faith and religion in children's literature, it seems to be a subject that many writers shy away from. However Golding masterfully tackles this with her superior storytelling skills to ensure that the plot is never weighed down by its philosophical beliefs.
All in all, Golding has created a fantastically gripping story about curiosity, gender, prejudice, ambition and murder! It's a must read for those who enjoy adventures and mysteries with a splash of alternate history (think Robin Stevens, Emma Carroll and Katherine Woodfine) but also for more mature readers who enjoy tackling bigger questions, like how faith and religion can coexist with science and looking at women and ethnic minorities in scientific positions.
I had the chance to interview Julia to find out more about The Curious Crime and her writing in general, which you can read here.
© 2018 Bluebird Reviews