An engrossing read with a magical twist at the end, this unashamedly traditional and memorable Christmas tale will delight children and adults alike.
Set in the 1890s, The Sleighmaker harks back to the storytelling traditions and timeless values of that era, offering a heart-warming story of hope and the power of true friendship.
British author Ian Shepherd impresses with his debut novel, which is aimed primarily at children aged seven and up, but has plenty of appeal for readers of all ages.
Like many books from the Victorian era, The Sleighmaker is not afraid to tackle darker issues - this is no sugary sweet Christmas confection - and it’s worth pointing out that there are some emotional scenes at the beginning of the book that might be a little upsetting for younger children, although parents can be reassured that, like all good Christmas stories, the book does have a happy and surprising ending.
The story focuses on master craftsman Drummond (the eponymous Sleighmaker), who lays down his tools and turns his back on his trade after a tragedy befalls him. He shuns company and social interaction as he dwells on his misfortune.
After nearly a year of this lonely life, he is persuaded to work on the estate of local landowners, Lord and Lady Harrington.
Here he works on mending broken fences and faulty threshing machines, until a young boy, William, joins the estate workforce and becomes his apprentice.
At first, Drummond is unsure of his new charge, but William’s sweet manner and words, which betray wisdom beyond his years, leads to the sleighmaker forming a strong bond.
After William discovers one of Drummond’s old sleighs gathering dust, he joins with the caring kitchen maid, Marny, to convince his master to restore it to its former glory in time for Christmas.
Drummond rises to the challenge and lives up to his reputation to be able to turn “any pile of metal or wood into one of the most beautiful carriages or sleighs you were ever likely to see”.
With the help of his close friend, the French artist Auguste, a larger-than-life comic character, Drummond creates a magnificent sleigh for the parade.
Without revealing the magical twist to the end of the tale, Drummond discovers the true meaning of Christmas in a very surprising way.
Far removed from the flash and bangs of modern children’s literature, The Sleighmaker is a beautiful, intriguing story with sympathetic, well-drawn characters.
It might be a little too wordy for younger children to read by themselves, but is an ideal bedtime story, and adults are sure to enjoy reading it to their little ones.
Its focus on the importance of friendship, love and community, echo the sentiments and magic of Christmas and by avoiding any religious dimension. It will have great appeal to families of all faiths.
It’s a classic in the making that recalls the festive spirit we all grew up with and instils it into the next generation. The Sleighmaker will be the perfect Christmas treat and a wonderful filler of stockings for any bookworms out there.
The Sleighmaker by Ian Shepherd is out now through Raj Joshi Publishing and priced £11.99 in hardback, £6.99 paperback and £4.60 as a Kindle eBook. Visit Amazon UK.