Publication Date: 6th May 2021
Featherweight by Mick Kitson dropped through my letterbox unexpectedly one day and when I opened the parcel and read the blurb I knew it had the potential to be a right corking good read……and boy was it!
Set in the early 1800’s in the Black Country at a time of industrial revolution, we meet Annie Loveridge and her Romi family. Annie’s father Big Tom has died in an accident and the family of seven soon to be 8 have been left destitute and penniless.
With no other choice Annie at the age of 9 is taken by her older brother Tommy to be sold at a local fair. It’s at this particular fair that feared and revered pugilist Bill Perry or ‘The Tipton Slasher’ as he’s known, is fighting in one of his last boxing matches. Bill buys young Annie for the princely sum of 6 guineas and they, together with Bill’s friend and agent of sorts The Gaffer, take to the waterways in their barge.
Annie is immediately enamoured with Bill and they develop a lovely father/daughter relationship. Bill however is ageing and his health is fading. He has a great love of not only Queen Elizabeth but the ale aswell. It’s his love of drinking that pushes him to buy his own public house and spend his days drinking himself into a stupor, telling tall tales with his patrons and knocking out anyone who brings trouble to his doorstep. But when his money dwindles from handing out too many free flaggons of ale to his pals and facing numerous fines for non payment of bills, The Tipton Slasher attempts to get into the ring one last time to win some money to save himself and Annie.
Unfortunately Bill is not up to the job and fearing for his life young Annie steps into the ring against Jem Mason otherwise known as ‘The Bilston Bruiser’. This fight changes her life along with Bill’s and Jem’s and takes them on a whirlwind adventure of ups and downs together.
I really could sit here and type out the whole story but why would I do that and spoil your pleasure in reading this book? which you SURELY MUST.
It is ram jam packed with colourful characters who jump straight off the page. There are Annie and Bill themselves who are not backwards in coming forwards and certainly do not pull their punches. There are various peripheral characters around them that make up an odd family unit of sorts who all stick together and look out for each other through thick and thin.
There’s Janey who teaches Annie to fight and is a sort of common law wife of Bill’s. There’s The Gaffer a close friend and confidante to both Bill and Annie. Then we have Jem who becomes Annie’s love interest and fight show partner at the fairs, and Paddy his agent.
Aswell as this strange family unit there are also numerous contenders in the ring. My favourite of which being Molly Stych who is perfectly depicted:
‘She was a broad woman of around forty years, her hair pulled back from her ruddy face in a bun, and her arms were thick and fleshy, ending in, what seemed to some, unnaturally large hands for a woman. She wore a billowing dress of green silk, with bunched sleeves and a floor length skirt fringed with grimy white lace. Her wide flat face was coloured with rouge and thick powder, and her eyes and eyebrows lined heavily with black kohl. She looked more of a fit for the stage than the boxing ring.’
We follow this motley crew of folk along their various adventures. Not all of them successful and not all of them safe but you find yourself swept away and rooting for them all the time.
Both Annie and Bill are brilliant characters, the kind who stick with you for a long time after you’ve closed the book. Annie is a quick thinker and has bravery in spades. She’s the homemaker and the breadwinner with her fighting skills and she is steadfastly attached to Bill and is constantly looking out for him.
Bill is a man who was once feared and respected who is now unfortunately losing his health due to his own battles with the demon drink. He is ferociously protective of Annie and his friends. Loyal and trustworthy to those who respect him.
It is not just the vividly portrayed characters that make this book such a joy to read, it is also the historical detail which really transports you back in time and envelops you in atmosphere.
I could wax lyrical about this book all day but I’ll leave it there and let you decide for yourself if it’s a book for you. If you love historical fiction bursting with colourful characters you really do need to get your hands on this one.
Thank you as always to the publisher for my review copy.
See you all soon.
Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx