February 11, 2018 - 7:53 am No Comments

AN ALMOND FOR A PARROT by Wray Delaney. HarperCollins, London, UK. £7.99 paperback. 413 pages. ISBN: 978-0-008-18253-3
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan.

When an author changes genres, there is a dilemma as to whether to use the same name as on previous books, or choose a new one. There are arguments for both points of view. Keeping the same name may well carry readers along and introduce them to something they might not have wanted to read before, such as romance readers discovering science fiction. Alternatively, they may be disappointed and never read another book by that author. There are some publishers who will use a change of name as an excuse to drop the advance regarding the new name in the same light as a new author leading to a lower income. Conversely, there are cases when changing the name is a good idea. A writer of historical fiction might not want to confuse readers when the next book is an explicitly erotic novel. Alienating the customers is never a good idea. Similarly, an established writer for children may feel that a book written for the adult audience is inappropriate for the younger bookworm. It also helps librarians and bookshop staff decide which shelves to put the book on. In the case of this author, it is probably a wise decision as Wray Delaney is better known as Sally Gardner an award winning children’s writer.
An Almond For a Parrot draws on some of the sources Delaney has mined for children’ books. The novel is set in the mid-eighteenth century and begins as a version of the Cinderella story. Tully Truegood, though the daughter of an (initially) wealthy merchant is raised in the kitchen by Cook. She learns to read from cookery books. When her father remarries, her fortunes change for the better for this stepmother is kind and has two pretty daughters. At least, that is what Tully believes. Then her life begins to unravel. Her new stepmother, Queenie, is actually the madam of a brothel and the arrangement with her father is an attempt to arrange a suitable marriage for one of the ‘sisters’. Her father is thrown in prison for debt. To add to her woes, her father married her off at the age of eight in order to clear some of his debts – a contract that then had legal standing, but Tully has no idea who her husband is. There is no handsome prince to come to her rescue. Queenie gives her shelter.
The element that make this novel stand out from being a grimy historical fiction and push it into fantasy is a supernatural talent Tully has. She is able to do magic. At first she doesn’t realise that she can. She is given a stuffed parrot in a cage. When she takes it out, it flies around the room. At first she thinks she is imagining it. She thinks the little dog that follows Mr Crease around is real until he tells her that the dog died some years before. It is he that recognises her talent for bringing the dead to life, even if only for a short while. He helps her hone her abilities to enhance the thrills on offer at Queenie’s new brothel.
Not everything goes smoothly and she does have to earn a living as one of Queenie’s girls. From the start we are aware that she is likely to hang as the form of the book is Tully telling her story while she is awaiting trial for the murder of her husband – or at least, the man who claims he is.
Ultimately this a book that has charm and the characters are engaging. It is a shame that the plot has to turn on a number of coincidences which place it firmly in the category of erotic romance.