Anya is an 11 year old who lives with her Mam and Tad (mum and dad) in Cardiff. The first few chapters of the book really set the scene well and Anya’s life at this point is really good. The only issue with Anya’s life early on in the book is issues with ‘friends’. She spends a week away with her family at a nearby coastal town and this is probably the final ‘high’ point for her before her life takes a very unexpected turn for the worst. Her Mam had a long-term health condition which frequently left her unwell. Shortly after Anya’s twelfth birthday, her mum very suddenly passes away. Now this isn’t a spoiler as it’s mentioned on the blurb of the book so I knew I was expecting it at some point, but when her Mam did die, it honestly broke my heart! I can’t imagine losing a parent at such a young age. I’ve been very fortunate to have both parents very close to me throughout my life and I couldn’t imagine being so young and having to attend the funeral of one of my parents.
This is where life starts to go wrong for Anya. Her life before was pretty perfect (well as perfect it could be for a working-class Victorian), and the death of her mother affects her Tad, really badly. He quite quickly descends into alcoholism as a way of coping. Anya is left alone a lot of the time whilst her father spends his life in the local alehouse, drinking away his sorrows.
Her father eventually reaches breaking point. He’s out of money and can no longer cope. He thinks that the best thing for Anya is to send her off to London to become a maid at Tippets House in the hope she could make some money for herself. For Anya, this transition is horrendous. When her mother was still alive, she was surrounded by a loving and supportive immediate and extended family, and now she was expected to be the maid for another family. Mrs Axton, who was incharge of the maids, was horrible to Anya right from the moment she stepped through the front door for the first time. Anya was pretty clueless as a maid and it really did make my heart ache for her! She’d been shipped off to a new city in a new country, didn’t know a soul, and was expected to work as a maid when she was used to a pretty comfortable working class life. Back at home, the family didn’t have any staff, but Anya wasn’t expected to do all of the chores – so this was a whole new life for her and she had to learn fast. It always shocks me how back in the Victorian era, it was perfectly acceptable to ship your young children off to start working at such a young age!
I’m not going to spoil the ending of the book, but it was an ending I didn’t expect. I really did enjoy this book and I was a little bit sad when I got to the end of it. I loved Anya and just wanted to keep reading about her and her life. I also find it so interesting how it’s a first person perspective – so the story is told through the eyes of Anya. With historical fiction books I’ve read, the protagonists have always been adults and so seeing the Victorian world through the eyes of a young girl completely fascinated me. Anya is such a brave character considering everything she went through. I know in the grand scheme of things, Anya didn’t have it too badly when comparing her life to the lives of some other Victorian children. Any time I read anything to do with the Victorians, I always count myself very lucky that I was born in the 1990s rather than the 1890s!!
At the start of the book, there are a few illustrations of each of the characters, but I think that it’s so well written that these illustrations might not even be needed! Obviously, the book is more middle grade and would suit someone of a similar age to Anya. I do really like the illustrations and think that they’d be super helpful for some younger readers to help them set the scene in their heads. Right from the first page, the book is simple to understand, yet so descriptive and well written. I sometimes find the first chapters of books can be a bit of an information overload but this entire book was easy to understand and follow and I enjoyed it so much. You can also tell that the author, Kirsten Mbawa, took a lot of time to research into the more minor details (things like what Victorians would eat, what toys they’d play with, how they’d dress etc), which made it all the more believable.
There’s one very important thing I’m yet to mention about this book, which is one of the reasons I found it so incredible. Kirsten Mbawa, the author, started writing this book when she was only 11 years old. She’s now published her debut novel at the age of twelve. HOW INCREDIBLE?!
I was originally sent some sample chapters of this book and Kirsten’s sister Aiyven’s book before they were first published and when I saw how old they were, I wasn’t expecting much. HOW WRONG I WAS! You wouldn’t know that the authors are so young if there weren’t their photos/ descriptions in the books. I’m yet to read Aiyven’s book ‘Land of the Nurogons’ but that’s up next on my TBR and if her sister’s book is anything to go by then I am SO excited to delve in to it. After finishing Sagas of Anya I sat there in complete awe and disbelief that the author of that book is barely in secondary school and she’s got a published book. Not only that, the book is REALLY good (and I’m not just saying that!).
Here’s some links to buy Sagas of Anya!
Mbawa Books: http://www.mbawabooks.co.uk/shop-our-books/