Published by Lion Hudson, 2020.
The Tigers in the Tower is a remarkable middle grade adventure. It’s an expertly crafted story that’s full of tension and excitement, terrific characters and a fascinating historical setting. I loved it!
It’s set in the early 19th century in London with many references to India. The story’s 12-year-old hero, Sahira Clive, is the only daughter of an Indian mother and an English father. Sahira and her parents are travelling to England to deliver two majestic Indian tigers to the menagerie in the Tower of London when tragedy strikes and Sahira’s parents die of fever on the journey. Sahira’s English relatives refuse to accept her and she ends up in a miserable and dangerous orphanage. Heartbroken and alone, Sahira is determined to protect her tigers at all costs.
I absolutely loved the descriptions of London and India. Julia Golding vividly evokes life in London and the scenes around Whitechapel: grimy alleyways, shady dealings, and the drab dwellings of the poor. The strict and loveless orphanage which Sahira is sent to and the ever-present threat of the workhouse both lend the book a Dickensian tone. By contrast, Julia’s descriptions of the lush Indian jungle and the vibrant bustling markets of Calcutta radiate colour and life.
Sahira has been brought up among wild animals and I enjoyed the parallels which she draws throughout the book between human and animal behaviour. Another interesting aspect of the book is the exploration of 19th century discoveries regarding evolution and the survival of the fittest.
A striking and disturbing theme of The Tigers in the Tower is the racial prejudice that existed at the time. As the child of an Indian-British marriage, Sahara’s treatment by nearly all the adults (and some of the children) that she meets is disgraceful. England is an intolerant, judgemental and cruel place. We learn that Sahira would not have been accepted in India either – her mixed-race birth a source of disgrace for her mother’s family. Another recurring theme is female inequality – women and girls are not afforded the same opportunities or freedom as their male counterparts.
Despite this, Sahira proves herself a force to be reckoned with. She is a formidable character and one of my absolute favourite female leads. She is brave and passionate. She has a strong moral compass and does what is right, not what is easy. She’s bright, headstrong and fundamentally a good human being. She puts the adults who preach and lecture her to shame.
At the other end of the spectrum are the book’s villains. Mr Pence, the greedy and cruel owner of the orphanage is a vile man. The schoolboy bullies Tommy and Alf Newton and their criminal father Harry Newton are scheming and vicious. Unpleasant though they are, I do love a book with a great villain and The Tigers in the Tower has them in spades!
The Tigers in the Tower is a story I will return to. It has the makings of a classic. It’s reminiscent of A Little Princess which was one of my favourite childhood books. I will definitely be sharing it with Sam when he’s older, just like my dad shared A Little Princess with me.
Suitable for children aged 8+
Thank you to Lion Hudson for sending me this book to review. I reviewed it as part of The Tigers in the Tower blog tour where author Julia Golding talked to me about writing historical fiction and the research she did for the book. Click here to read the interview.