“The boy put the book down, revealing that there was a perfectly normal boy behind it. She had begun to harbour a sneaking suspicion—and Mary was inordinately fond of sneaking suspicions—that he might be hideously disfigured, or possibly a very famous young prince or duke in hiding, afraid to show his face. But he was neither hideous nor recognizably famous. Just a boy, with a book.
… ‘Mary Godwin,’ she said, holding out her hand.
‘Charles,’ said the boy, who stuck out his hand without putting the book down.”
Have you ever wished the someone would come around and write a novel about your favourite real-life historical figures forming a detective agency? Look no further than Jordan Stratford’s children’s novel, The Case of the Missing Moonstone, a novel about two young ladies, Ada Lovelace and Mary Godwin, a detective team solving cases around London. How could this be? Fiction, of course—with a very liberal timeline.
Stratford’s novel reimagines the two women as children living in 1826 London: Ada, eleven, and Mary, fourteen. As friends, the two girls set on solving a case that, as one might have guessed from the title of the novel, sounds suspiciously like the plot from Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone (1866), with, of course, a bit of help from their friends. Their entourage includes Charles (who the dickens could that be?), a very literate and imaginative young man who pretends to never be where he is, and Peebs (Percy, whose initials are “PBS”), Ada’s tutor who goes very red in the face when he looks at Mary.
Historically, Ada Lovelace and Mary Godwin were born eighteen years apart. Ada, born Ada Byron in 1815, the only legitimate daughter of poet George Byron. She is often regarded as the world’s first computer programmer, having worked on one of the first algorithms intended for an early prototype of a computer. She married the Earl of Lovelace, hence being known as Ada Lovelace, though in reality her married name would have been Ada King-Noel. Mary, on the other hand, born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin in 1797, is better known as Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, considered the first science fiction novel. She was the wife of Peebs, er, Percy Bysshe Shelley, whose personal life and escapades rivals a soap opera’s twists and turns.
While Ada would have indeed been eleven in 1826, most of the other characters would have not been at the ages that Stratford places them. His particular take on the various historical figures might be difficult for some readers to get past. The age gap between Ada and Mary is decreased to three years apart. Mary’s future husband, Percy Shelley, died in 1824, but his age has also been moved forward so that Percy is around Mary’s age and around to help solve the case. Ada and Mary’s sisters, Allegra and Jane respectively, both have their ages, and in Allegra’s case, life, extended to propel the story forward. One rare exception to this liberal timeline is that of Charles, that is, Charles Dickens, who would have been fourteen in 1826.
The book is interesting, plot-wise and in terms of its concept, though readers of The Moonstone can expect a very similar outcome to the story, but cleaned up for children. Friendships go through a predictable break up period followed by a quick reconciliation. Though seemingly predictable, and relying somewhat on children’s book tropes, it is by no means derivative. The two central characters, Ada and Mary, while precocious, act their respective ages, and their characterisation makes them approachable to children. Illustrations by Kelly Murphy give the book some more charm. Through written for and certainly understandable by children, the prose is also geared towards the adults that might read the book to their children who have a bit of background on the Western literature canon. At times, it seems that the writing is slightly too clever for its own good, with cheeky references by characters to people and events that would come later in the character’s real-life counterpart’s lives.
If you can get over the age differences between the character’s real-life counterparts, this children’s book is an enjoyable read. It is also a good introduction for children to learn about two amazing women of the Victorian era.