Song of the Slums Book Review

“I use Grammarly for proofreading because I am afraid of someone leaving grammar Nazi memes in the comments.”

Song of the Slums, Richard Harland
Allen and Unwin 2013.
RRP: $17.99 Aust.

Back what feels like a thousand years ago (and was really a couple of months), I was lucky enough to score an interview with Richard regarding his latest novel, Song of the Slums. Sadly, my book backlog has reached such epic proportions I still haven’t read books that I’ve bought from the beginning of the year (sorry Margo. I promise you I am reading Cracklescape. One day.) That’s why this review has taken literally forever, Richard. Please don’t come to my blog with the Rowdies in a fit of music driven rock n roll rage. Not unless that rage is accompanied by awesome images of steampunk guitars.

Anyway, back to Song of the Slums. From the Allen and Unwin website:

What if they’d invented rock ‘n roll way back in the 19th century? What if it could take over the world and change the course of history?

In the slums of Brummingham, the outcast gangs are making a new kind of music, with pounding rhythms and wild guitars. Astor Vance has been trained in refined classical music. But when her life plummets from riches to rags, the only way she can survive is to play the music the slum gangs want.

Charismatic Verrol, once her servant, is now her partner in crime…and he could be so much more if only he’d come clean about his mysterious past…

And the bonus endorsement quote from Kate:

‘I loved the music, the syncopated rhythm, the dark, smoky atmosphere, the call to arms, the love story…this is gaslight fantasy at its best.’ Kate Forsyth


Having played sax. in a school concert band for eight years, Richard had me at the rock n roll in the nineteenth century part. Also gaslight steampunk. Who doesn’t enjoy this kind of crazed genre mish mash. I can’t help it. I love genre subversion. The first part of the novel kicks off with a bang as Astor is mistaken about her marriage prospects and is forced to become governess to three children from hell. Verrol helps her to escape and she and him are forced to join a street gang to survive… how do they join? By making good art, that’s how! Political revolution, family secrets and fame collide when The Rowdie’s Grandmother has a vision of slum music making it big.

How many members of the band will succumb to Lady Gaga’s fame monster? Will the British monarchy gain a back bone and a conscience? Is war justified if it gives the poor something to occupy themselves with? And is this society really just the fault of the loathed new money Plutocrats? Richard always features political upheaval in his steampunk works which adds a great dose of adventure, excitement and danger to his stories and Song of the Slums is no exception. He is also interested in romantic relations between people of different social strata’s. In Worldshaker, Col is the upper class male in love with a lower class woman. In Song of the Slums, Astor represents the fading landed gentry in opposition to the nouveau riche; the privileged girl who falls in love with the slum born Verrol. This romantic angle gives Richard the chance to complicate Astor’s faith in her own middle class values and makes for some really interesting character development.

A book full of rhythm, dark backstreets, concert halls and plenty of political and physical action, I could really see this YA book made into a steampunk film. Someone buy the rights.

Song of the Slums: 4/5 inky stars

The interview I did with Richard is Here

About InkAshlings

Maureen, Australian, young aspiring writer.
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