Apprentice - Pamela Freeman
The industrial revolution setting in The Murderers' Apprentice
came out of research I did when I was a scriptwriter at the PowerHouse
Museum. I did an video about the Bolton and Watt steam engine, which
was made in 1775, and used original images (drawings, engravings,
paintings, etc) plus quotes about industrialisation from the writers
of the time. This research was the most radicalising (if that's a
word) thing I ever did, showing me what unrestrained capitalism is
I've often thought about using the information I had and the sense
of the time I'd developed in a book, but never did anything with it
until I was asked for a book set in the Quentaris universe. One of
the things I really liked about the Quentaris series was the ability
it gave writers to explore other worlds in a science-fiction kind
of way while still having magic to play with. So I wanted to juxtapose
a very industrial/technical world with the fantasy one of Quentaris,
and thought of my industrial revolution research as a background.
I had to shift the technology to volcanic steam power so that I could
create a threat to Quentaris (got to have one of those!) but as far
as I know, there's nothing impossible about the kind of technology
The steam engines, the social conditions and the work at the mill
are exactly what you would have found around 1780 in Britain, say
in a place like Bradford.
Like her father and mother before her, Merrith is apprenticed to become
an assassin with the Murderers’ Guild. But Merrith is hopeless
with a dagger and sword, inept at mixing poison, and doesn’t
like the idea of killing people anyway. Then a prophecy from the Soothsayers’
Guild says Merrith must join an expedition to the rift caves, or Quentaris
will be destroyed. Can Merrith save Quentaris – even if it means
she must become a professional murderer?
Pamela Freeman started writing stories for children while she was
a scriptwriter at the ABC. Her work, which includes The Willow
Tree ’s Daughter, Victor’s Quest and Pole to
Pole, has been short-listed for the NSW Premier ’s Literary
Awards, the Children ’s Book Council Book of the Year Award
for Younger Readers and the Koala Awards.
They were behind her. Merrith could hear the soft footsteps keeping
pace with her own. Two, at least, maybe more. She looked around quickly,
but they weren’t in sight. The narrow street was empty, the
shop fronts in this street of tin smiths closed up, everyone inside
eating dinner or getting ready for bed. She increased her pace, and
behind her the footsteps got faster, too.
She slid around a corner into a wider street with a few people straggling
home from the market, baskets full. She took a breath and slowed down.
They wouldn’t attack her right out in front of everybody. She
checked her pockets. Not much that was useful. String, of course,
some nails stuck to a magnet, chalk, a handkerchief, a few coins.
Nothing useful. She’d better run. Instinctively, she set off
towards home, her aunt’s place in the Street of Weavers. But
as her feet started to smart from the sting of hard cobbles against
her thin-soled boots, she realised that leading her pursuers there
was the last thing she wanted to do. They were behind her, running
now too. Two sets of footfalls, loud in the quiet street. They were
gaining on her.
There was an alleyway to the left. Merrith knew that down there was
a ladder against one wall of a dyer’s shop which let the dyer
take her cloth up to the roof to dry, but she only considered that
way of escape for a second. She and the roofies didn’t get on.
They called her a clodhopper and she thought they were a bunch of
useless parasites. Well, maybe that was a bit strong. But they didn’t
do much to earn their bread and they acted so superior to everyone
Concentrate! she told herself. Or you’ll be dead by morning.