Book Review: The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise

Since London is in the spotlight right now, I think it’s finally time I give you my review of The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart.

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The Tower of London is visited by thousands of people year after year. The Tower imprisoned the likes of Anne Boleyn, Sir Walter Raleigh, and William Wallace. But what of the keepers of the fortress/tourist attraction? What are their lives beyond hosting tours of the Crown Jewels and wearing traditional Queen’s uniforms? How do their families and children deal with living within the walls of the Tower?

I’m pretty sure he was the Beefeater guide when I went on my tour!

Yeoman Warder Balthazar Jones and his wife Hebe are suffering from the quiet of a home that once housed a child. The only living being in their care is the 120-year old family tortoise, Mrs. Cook. When Yeoman Warder Jones is tasked with bringing the Royal Menagerie back to the Tower of London, and maintaining it, life takes a bit of a turn for everyone from the Reverend Septimus Drew to Hebe’s coworker, Valerie Jennings, at the London Underground’s Lost Property Office. But for Jones and his wife, can the zoo repair all that is broken?

Stuart’s writing style is charmingly English. Everyone is called by their full name when mentioned by the narrator. Each character has a little bit more going on than meets the eye, and the cast of characters all exhibit a bit of charm in their idiosyncrasies. The story is told from several viewpoints and breathes life into the drab setting of The Tower of London. Even the ravens exhibit their best (but mostly worst) qualities.

At the heart of the story is the marriage between the Joneses and their mourning for their son. As the story unfolds, we find out more and more about the young boy, the happiness he created and the hole he left in both parents’ hearts. It’s in his memory that the two find their slow way back to normal.

While the story was sad at times, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the jabs to the Royals, to the tourists, and to the Beefeaters themselves. To me, sudden hidden humor is very British, and so very funny. Plus, I really enjoyed the idea that these people could live such interesting lives while stuck within the walls of such an iconic attraction. This book made me nostalgic for my study abroad trip to England, and only made me feel like there is so much more to learn about that historic city. I hope that next time I am there, I can focus my eyes and ears on the people around me, and not just “the sights.”

Do you like “behind-the-scenes” books like I do? What book have you read recently that has transported you to a different place?

3.5/5 stars


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