I enjoyed these two books by Eva Ibbotson so much that I snapped up a copy of The Star of Kazan when I saw it in a charity shop the other day. Journey to the River Sea won all the prizes but I like this one better.
It starts all charm and fairy tale, when a foundling is brought to live in a bourgeois home in Vienna, in 1896. The child grows up as a servant but she is loved, secure, respected. Then everything changes and the scene moves to northern Germany. Suddenly, it’s a thriller and I raced through to the end. It’s beautifully written and very atmospheric. Austria, full of warmth, kindness, flowers, good food, is contrasted with a cold, bleak and warlike Germany. In the background, the vast Hungarian plain and its horses, which play such an important part in the story. A child reading this might take in subliminally a picture of Europe before the First World War, much as an adult would get a feel of between-the-wars Europe from Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time of Gifts. The heroine is brave and kind, her friends are true and one of them overcomes agoraphobia to help her. The bad people don’t end as unhappily as one might wish but the good are as happy as they deserve to be. All this and Lipizzaner horses, too!