Reviews /

The Lizzie and Belle Mysteries – Drama and Danger

Authored by JT Williams
Illustrated by Simone Douglas
Published by Farshore

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The Lizzie and Belle Mysteries – Drama and Danger was long listed for the 2023 Young Quills Awards. It tells the story of two young girls in the late Eighteenth Century living very different lives.

Lizzie Sancho is the daughter of a grocer and actor, Ignatius Sancho. He has been chosen to play Othello, the first Black man to do so on the British stage. Whilst Lizzie and her family attend the debut, a dreadful accident befalls her father. Lizzie is sure that she saw something at the time of the accident, alongside a striking Black girl on the other side of the theatre, who catches her eye.

This is Dido Belle, the great niece of Lord and Lady Mansfield, who live in the grandeur of Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath. She seems lonely, and is keen to help Lizzie find out what happened at the theatre. The girls combine forces, interviewing suspects as well as looking for clues and following up on leads.

Lizzie and Belle also realise that people are going missing. They stumble upon an underground movement, The Sons and Daughters of Africa. This brave group of people are attempting to stop the illegal trafficking of Black people as slaves. How this is linked to Lizzie and Belle’s investigation unravels as the story progresses.

The Lizzie and Belle Mysteries has been very well written and researched. I enjoyed reading about Eighteenth Century London, and could picture it in my head as I was reading. The descriptions of sights, smells and sounds that JT Williams uses were evocative of this period in history. The map at the beginning of the book also helped to locate places within the story.

I cared about the characters of Lizzie and Belle, and wanted them to succeed in their mission. This story also gives us an alternative view of the slave trade. The underground movement that Lizzie and Belle come across shows Black characters feeling empowered to tackle injustice. This is much more positive than a lot of other history books will show us, and I applaud JT Williams for tackling this tricky subject so thoughtfully.

It has made me want to find out more about the real life characters of Ignatius Sancho and Dido Belle, and I have already bought a copy of the second book in the series, Portraits and Poisonings. Perfect for upper KS2 readers.