4 out of 4 stars
Share This Review
Many of us are unaware of the harsh historical realities of the chimney sweep trade, and the fact that it relied heavily on young children laboring under extremely harmful and dangerous conditions. Infants of the Brush by A.M. Watson gives readers a heartbreaking glimpse of the grim nature of the work through the tale of Egan, a young boy sold to the chimney sweep profession in 18th century London.
Egan’s family received a major blow when his father died at sea, and in order to afford food and medicine for Egan’s sister, their mother had no choice but to sell him into apprenticeship with a master chimney sweep. Though Egan is taken under the wing of Pitt, one of the older boys on the job, days are hard and nights even harder. In addition to the unhealthy and life-threatening conditions of the work, including burning bricks and collapsing chimneys, Egan deals with constant cold and hunger, bullying by his master and other boys, and the gnawing ache of missing his family.
There is hope on the horizon, as saving up five guineas of their meager earnings will earn the boys a right to buy back their freedom. Egan must choose daily between getting enough to eat or adding to his small savings, as he hopes to eventually reunite with his mother and sister. The question that hovers over each of the boys’ daily lives is whether any of them will survive the job long enough to see their families again.
This is a heart-wrenching story, rich with detail and robust with life and emotion. This story will highlight reasons to be grateful that we live in an age where children are at least somewhat better protected. It is well-researched and true to the time period it describes, including plenty of authentic dialect to submerge the reader in the scene. Despite being loaded with historical detail, the writing is not dense... rather, the story flows at a brisk and engaging pace. The editing is thorough and I only discovered one minor error throughout the entire text.
Readers of historical fiction are likely to enjoy this entertaining and enlightening novel. Though I was aware that child labor laws are a fairly recent concept, I did not have knowledge specific to the trade of chimneysweeping. Learning about micro histories through the lens of historical fiction is one of my favorite aspects of reading this genre, and this particular book was both enjoyable and informative. Though there was one element of the ending that I found slightly dissatisfying, the rest of the book was so good that I do not hesitate to rate it 4 out of 4 stars. My opinion on the ending is mostly a personal preference, as I had wanted some more detail about a certain aspect of the story, and this would not necessarily affect another person’s reading experience. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys serious emotional works, as well as to fans of the historical fiction genre in general.
Infants of the Brush
View: on Bookshelves | on Amazon
Like bluegreenmarina's review? Post a comment saying so!