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Song of the Slums by Richard Harland

  • Date published: 24th April 2013
  • Publisher: Allen & Unwin AU
  • Format: Paperback, 372 pages
  • ISBN 13: 9781743310052
  • Categories: YA – Steampunk
  • Goodreads / Booktopia / Bookworld
  • Source: provided for review by the publisher

What if they’d invented Rock ‘n Roll way back in the 19th century? What if it could take over the world and change the course of history?

In the slums of Brummingham, the outcast gangs are making anew kind of music, with pounding rhythms and wild guitars.

Astor Vance has been trained in refined classical music. But when he life plummets from riches to rags, the only way she can survive is to play the music the slum gangs want.

Charismatic Verrol, once her servant, is now her partner in crime … and he could be so much more if only he’d come clean about his mysterious past …

I’ll admit I was wary when I opened the package from Allen & Unwin and found this book inside. I’d never heard of it, and although I love steampunk and alternate history, I worried about how much I could enjoy a book so centrally focussed on music – after all, I know next to nothing about music. I shouldn’t have worried: Song of the Slums is a delightful read, rhythmic and romantic at the same time.

The book begins with Astor, who thinks she’s about to wed the handsome plutocrat Lorrain Swale. To her horror (and mine), she’s abandoned by her mother and step-father and forced to become a governess for the Swale children – petulant, stubborn and disagreeable creatures, all three of them. I sympathised with Astor’s plight, and admired her tenacity as she continued teach the children every day, despite their hostility. When the children turn on her and she’s forced out of the household, Astor relies heavily on her servant Verrol, who, it turns out, has secrets of his own. Their only hope for survival is to join a street gang. It’s a far cry from the luxury Astor is accustomed to, but she adapts remarkably well, and I liked witnessing the vibrant, smoky atmosphere through her eyes.

The camaraderie between members of the slum gangs is endearing, and I liked the relationships between the members of the band, The Rowdies. The band coalesces wonderfully, and they grew to love and respect one another, and I relished the attachment between the only two girls in the band, Mave and Astor. The Song of the Slums explores their friendships and bonds, and also allows love to blossom in the unlikeliest of places, and I laughed a lot reading about the characters bumble over their romances.

Behind the basic plot-line of survival is another story, one of poverty, courage, politics and war, which the slum gangs get involved in because of the influence of their music. Song of the Slums cleverly explores the consequences of war, the ex-soldiers and heavy industrialisation that have no place in a world of peace, the plight of the slum children who were press-ganged into service, and the power music has over all our souls. The book isn’t heavy-handed with these concepts, but they allow for a richer plot, filled with nuance and intrigue.

Readers with a soft spot for steampunk will appreciate the gaslight fantasy of The Song of the Slums, and readers looking for quick, absorbing read will not go wrong by picking it up. I am very glad I read this, and I think you will be too.

The Song of the Slums is available from today from all good book retailers.

One comment on “Song of the Slums by Richard Harland

  1. Rock and roll in 19th century and steampunk. This sounds awesome. 🙂 Sadly this seems to be another book that is currently available only for AUS market. But I am glad at least you had a chance to enjoy it. 🙂

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