Honesty & Lies is set in London in 1601, it is winter and the court of Elizabeth I is preparing for the forthcoming Twelfth Night celebrations. Against this backdrop two girls meet on the London streets, both hiding secrets and both trying to survive in a world where they have little if any power. Honesty is a Welsh storyteller fleeing her home and looking for fame and fortune whilst Alice is a maid at court, quiet and reserved and revealing little about herself. Honesty’s gift for storytelling quickly promotes her to a higher position in court whilst her new friend Alice remains in her role of maid. The change in their circumstances causes friction but as the court intrigue intensifies the girls may have to put aside their differences to deal with mounting danger.
Eloise Williams tells her story in the dual voices of Honesty and Alice in alternate chapters and this enables her to convey the inner thoughts of the two girls and reveal how misunderstandings, jealousy and hurt can alter the course of both friendship and events. Whilst the girls’ friendship is the heart of this story the plot is compelling in its mystery and careful reveals by each of the two main characters. Readers will enjoy gradually fitting the pieces of the jigsaw together as the story develops and the dual narrative told in the first person immerses you in Honesty and Alice’s world quickly.
The historical detail is wonderful describing the settings in such a way to fully bring them to life in the imagination. Facts including the food eaten at court, the types of clothing and the work carried out by the maids all add to the reading experience but also make this an excellent book to link with the teaching of the history curriculum. Concentrating less on the monarch but more on the lives of the people this would enlighten children. The scenes at the Globe theatre and Greenwich Palace, apparently some of which were inspired by Hampton Court, contain facts merged into the story without ever feeling forced.
The very different personalities of Honesty and Alice add to the enjoyment and it is fascinating for the reader to observe how each of the two girls interpret the other’s actions and this is an interesting study on how we can misunderstand others and their intentions. The dynamic of the growing friendship will be something that readers may identify with too, the petty jealousies and difficulties that can affect relationships. Thankfully, without giving away too much in the way of spoilers, the story allows us to see that true friendship relies on trust. Honesty and Alice are both, in different ways, coping with the lack of control they have over their own lives. Themes of gender inequality plus homelessness and poverty are all covered within the storyline. The power of stories as escape and entertainment, solace and encouragement, runs through the book in a natural manner.
Honesty & Lies is not too long a read for children at Upper KS2 and onwards yet is rich in ideas, language and period detail. It would no doubt appeal to readers who enjoy Emma Carroll’s books and would be a great class read.
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