I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
This novel looks at the plight of chimney sweeps in Victorian England. It's got a bit of a Dickensian feel, but it is imbued with magic, including a loveable golem.
It's the story of a sweep who finds a baby girl, Nan, and looks after her. He teaches her his trade, but he is also a story teller who fills their hardest times with love. The story unfolds in two sections. Italic text tells the story of Nan when she was still with her sweep. Regular text puts the reader into Nan's present. When he disappeared he left Nan his top hat and a magical piece of coal that is always warm. It turns out this piece of coal is the seed for a golem that is released when Nan almost dies in a chimney fire.
Jonathan Auxier writes gorgeous, complicated and rich characters. You can't help but worry about all of them. Nan is spunky and smart. Toby, who at first she isn't sure she likes, is resilient, loyal and clever. Charlie, the golem, is naive, strong, and full of love. At first he is hardly aware of his own power and purpose. Nan's sweep is a kind of ideal caregiver. Even Roger, the antagonistic sweep Nan works with, is shown to have a heartbreaking background that enables the reader and Nan to understand him better.
This book connects to universal truths about what it means to be human. Sometimes you read a book and certain lines jump out at you with the power of their universal truth. Here are some lines that resonate with me.
"That's how it works, doesn't it? We are saved by saving others." page 180
"That's what it is to care for a person," Toby Said. There was not even a hint of mocking in his voice. "If you're not afraid, you're not doing it right." page 272
Love is what this book is all about. After finishing it I've been thinking about what parents and caregivers give to their children and how much more we might be prepared to give to ensure their survival. Would we, like Nan's sweep, give our lives? Maybe we already do, bit bit, just like he did.