The Santander children, flushed with success after winning the Mapmakers’ Race (see also https://picturesandconversations.co.uk/2018/07/02/the-mapmakers-race-by-eirlys-hunter/), have now been re-united with Ma. But they are still without Pa, missing on his last expedition. When they hear rumours of his whereabouts they immediately make plans to travel to look for him. So off they head to Cruxcia, a land under threat from the Grania Trading Company, an all-powerful outside force. Unknown to them, the Santanders have arrived into the middle of a desperate situation, and one for which their special skills might have designed.
Even before they arrive, the family realises that it is in danger although they are not entirely sure why. And then Ma is struck down with a dangerous bout of food poisoning. Fortunately the Santander children, Sal, Joe, Francie and Humphrey, are resourceful. Rescued from an unknown enemy, they are taken in by Vivi, Hessa and their mother. The girls’ father is in prison along with Pa. The Santanders are elated that they have found him at the same time as being worried that he is in prison. Just as a plan is being formulated to protect Cruxcia from its aggressors Vivi and Hessa’s mother is arrested so, the six children find themselves alone and with great responsibilities.
As was the previous book, The Uprising has been illustrated by Kirsten Slade. Her drawings and her delightful maps really enhance the book. I like to be able to picture the setting when I’m reading a book but I’ve found it difficult with these two as they appear to be set somewhere in Eirlys Hunter’s head but in a landscape that is full of familiar elements. Kirsten Slade’s illustrations have made it easier for me to see the action happening therefore. And they are also wonderful pieces of art in their own right.
There are lots of different strands and themes in this book and I was struck by the ways in which analogies could be drawn between it and the current situation in Ukraine. However, I don’t think that Eirlys Hunter is demonstrating her prescience here but rather her skill as a great storyteller. Because first and foremost this is a book about people, their motivations and desires. And people don’t change from generation to generation or country to country. In terms of nature and personality there is nothing new under the sun.
In many ways, this is an old-fashioned adventure story. To be clear, I’m saying that in a congratulatory tone! As in many early and mid twentieth century children’s books, the adults are sidelined pretty smartly allowing the young people to be in charge and take complex decisions without parental support or interference. This allows their individual characters and skill sets to shine through and, in this case, a strong group dynamic to be formed.
Although, as I said, The Uprising covers many strands and themes, including environmental and land ownership issues, to my mind it is basically about family and community and the strength to be found in those settings. Through Sal, the eldest of the Santander children, Eirlys Hunter makes the point that being equal does not mean being the same. Sal realises that her future does not lie in mapmaking and to her relief her parents understand and accept that. But I hope that children reading the book will simply enjoy an exciting story full of diverse characters.