When she tries to save her neck, a young girl learns there are dangers outside the dungeon too.
Brought to the Tower of London as a motherless baby, 12-year-old Moss hates her limited life and reviled role as the basket girl, carrying the heads of the newly decapitated after Pa beheads Henry VIII’s prisoners. She loves stories, like the one of the Riverwitch, but she rebels when she doubts her father’s tales of their ties to the tower. Seizing the first chance at freedom, Moss plunges right into the Thames and danger. She hobnobs with nobles, befriends a boot thief, and tangles with the supernatural spirit who tries to lure children beneath the icy surface. Hardstaff gambles with her blend of fiction and folklore and her compression of dates, but she excels with her depiction of Tudor England, offering lavish descriptions of clothing and food, a moderate amount of lower-class dialect, and a slew of stench and grime. Anne Boleyn comes off a bit too prescient and moralistic to be believed, but court politics get an arch appraisal. Unhampered by any real historical role yet propelled by the fairy-tale undercurrent, Moss shifts, rebellious adolescent, clever child, and fortuitous historical-fiction heroine by turn.
A richly detailed debut with a classic feel, full of grit, gore, and gilt. (Historical fantasy. 10-14)