I’m a very visual person so when I saw the cover art for this book by Julia Stuart I had to get it from the library. I’m disappointed when a book has good cover art but the story fails to capture my attention; however, this definitely wasn’t the case with Stuart’s novel. I read The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise in two days, which is quite the feat when you’ve got other priorities. It was so enchanting and whimsical and full of little-known (or little-known to me, anyway) facts about the Tower of London.
Balthazar Jones is a Beefeater at the Tower of London and lives there with his wife Hebe and their 120-year-old tortoise Mrs. Cook. The Jones’ son Milo died three years before the story begins, so the couple is still reeling from the shock of losing their only child; they’ve handled their grief differently and have grown apart following Milo’s death. There are a wide array of interesting characters that also live and work at the Tower, and Stuart does a great job of incorporating the Tower’s history into the story. Because of his penchant for animal care, the Queen wants Balthazar to oversee her royal menagerie, which is being transferred to the Tower for a new display. Comprised of numerous animals including escape-artist penguins, giraffes, a Komodo dragon, and an Etruscan shrew that suffers from debilitating shyness and anxiety, Balthazar has his work cut out for him. When Hebe leaves and Mrs. Cook apparently “runs” away, Balthazar is forced to reevaluate his life choices and face his deepest, darkest secret.
I was sad when I finished The Tower,The Zoo, and The Tortoise. Stuart is also the author of two other works, neither of which I’ve enjoyed as much as this one. This book makes me want to go back to London and visit the Tower. I learned more about Tower history from Stuart’s novel than I did when I visited the site a few years ago!If you’re in need of a fast, different read, I’d give this one a try.