Viaduct Child by Patrick Wood (2002)
Dushma isn't registered.
That means she isn't entitled to go to school. She isn't entitled to anything. She should be in the workhouse, but she isn't. She lives with her Aunt Megan in their flat hidden away in the viaduct.
And what do you do all day if you can't go to school? Dushma roams the streets of London, learning her way round the alleys and backways, and haunting the monstrous, outlandish St Gotha's Cathedral.
Dushma is a drain on Auntie Megan's resources. She wants Dushma to earn her own keep, out on the streets, but that is an argument between the two of them that is never resolved.
When their flat is raided by the police, Dushma escapes, but she still can't go anywhere and live a normal life because she still isn't registered. She is an outlaw:She probably wouldn't have survived very long if Susskin hadn't rescued her. He takes her to the disused underground tube station which he calls home, and there she meets Ibmahuj, leader of the little group of outlaws:
'We don't think of it as stealing,' said Ibmajuj. 'We think of it as reparation. We are the unregistered. The dispossessed. What we take from society is a mere fraction of what we could have put back into society had we not been denied the chance, through no fault of our own, to contribute to the good of the community as hard-working, law-abiding, registered citizens.' He noticed her uncertain expression. 'Don't worry. You won't be on your own. The others'll look after you. I'm sure you'll be an asset to the community. I'm very glad you came.' He extended his hand towards her, holding her gaze with his large, sparkling eyes.
So she begins her new life but it always feels precarious.
If you want to know what happens you will have to read the book, but I have to say, you may not be much wiser. If ever a book left a plot dangling, unfinished, this must be it. What happened to Beltrowser? Why didn't Dushma even spare him a thought? Was there any point to Dushma's electromagnetic problem, apart from the obvious reference to St Gotha?
You will have to answer these questions for yourself, I fear, but don't let that put you off the book. It's a startling and fearful world that Patrick Wood has created, and you may well enjoy looking round it!
What can I read next?
If you enjoy stories set in a world which is like, but not like, the world that you already live in, then you might like to look at this brilliant adventure story by Philip Reeve:
Or, you might really enjoy the His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman:
If you think the elidra are bad, you should meet the cradlejacks in this dramatic and terrifying read by Chris Wooding:
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Viaduct Child features in these lists: