Belinda Murrell, The Golden Tower, Penguin Australia, March 2021, 288 pp., RRP $16.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781760897093
The Golden Tower is a story of adventure and fantasy. The hero is Sophie, a thirteen-year-old filled with self-doubt, vulnerability, and bearing a latent strength that is about to be tested. Sophie is an Australian girl staying with her grandmother in a wonderfully described, quintessential thatched cottage and English country garden, surrounded by green fields of grazing cows. Sophie decides to explore nearby ancient Roman ruins, when she is enticed to follow a ginger cat to an ancient room within the hill, and out the other side to the land of Tuscia.
From then until the last pages of the book we are seemingly transported to Renaissance Italy, but with a rather magical quality about it. The cat is talking (albeit in a rather sarcastic and bullying manner), there are flying horses, and a bunch of children who live in a rather grand house with their Nonna, who seems unsurprised by Sophie’s presence, and assures Sophie she’s the one needed to protect her granddaughters, Isabella and Bianca, from impending danger.
Sophie’s adventure leads her from this warm country home to the golden tower of the title when Isabella and Bianca’s beautiful young stepmother, Ginevre, who is Duchessa to their sad father, the Duca, whisks them all away suddenly. It soon becomes clear that Ginevre has not just an amazing facility with magic, but also no compunction in using it to control the Duca and his daughters, whatever the cost.
The ensuing story draws the reader into a true hero’s journey, with Sophie the reluctant protagonist. Both setting and characters are beautifully well drawn. The Tower is full of both historical detail and magic, and Sophie begins to realise that her fate is tied to that of the girls, and their cousins, Leo and Nicco. The tale has twists and turns aplenty, leading to a very satisfying ending. Through all Sophie grows in courage and self-knowledge as friendships are forged, and her world comes back into view.
Reviewed by Marita Thomson