The Cockney Sparrow is a historical novel set in Victorian England, focusing on Clemency, Jack and Edith Skinner and their desperate attempts to escape poverty. Clemency Skinner has to support her disabled brother Jack and alcoholic mother Edith by pickpocketing in the streets every day. Their situation is made worse by Todd Hardiman, an oppressive bully who ensures they never feel safe in their own home. With the constant threat of violence and their bleak financial situation, Clemency has to be especially resourceful to feed and protect her family.

Clemency isn’t just an exceptionally talented pickpocket; she’s also an incredible singer and dreams of making a living by performing in theatres. She manages to find work with Augustus Throop and his group of buskers, which means she can help her family escape from Hardiman. However, Clemency’s relief is short-lived and she’s back to picking pockets before long.

Her life changes forever when she tries to steal from the wrong person – Jared Stone, a wealthy gentleman and philanthropist. He makes Clemency a tempting offer that would make the most of her talent for thieving, but can she trust him?

Clemency is a compelling heroine; her approach to life, sense of humour and sheer determination make her an admirable character. There are many other charming and likeable characters in the novel, such as Ned the barman, Augustus Throop and Jared’s sister, Izzy. However, the story is longer than it needs to be and the plot goes off on unnecessary tangents, making it too easy to lose track of what’s happening. Despite this, The Cockney Sparrow is still a worthwhile read that touches on some important issues, especially social inequality.

★★★

The Cockney Sparrow was published by Arrow on 8 September 2016

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