The story is set in a Victorian mill and concerns the plucky Rachel who at thirteen leads the ill-treated orphans to run away. Constantly on the run from the mill foreman the kids stop at local farms, orchards, inns and circuses doing good deeds and hard work for food. Despite being malnourished and brutalised by adults they never steal or cheat or drop their immaculate politeness.
Having a lone girl of such a young age as a competent leader, who never cries once, is a bold and welcome choice. It is a step beyond Enid Blyton’s day where the boys were in charge and you had to be a tomboy to compete. Rachel is clearly very bright, constantly outthinking her pursuers, and shows amazing integrity.
As readers we learn that the mill owner has softened his attitude and intends to treat the children properly. The cruel foreman chasing them is actually trying to bring them back to a better life. This removes any real drama and suspense as we know there is the safety net of a happy ending when the children are caught. It also undermines Rachel’s heroic efforts to safeguard her charges and stand up to unjust treatment. Maybe there is some subtext about obeying adults who clearly have your best interest at heart.
The art is the crudest of black and white line drawings with occasional hatching but no real shading. There are two, occasionally three, panels per page. Early on there is a diagonal division and vertical one but these are swiftly replaced by horizontal divides. There is virtually no narration but the odd thought bubble from a character helps the reader along. The story is told through the dialogue as there isn’t a single mute panel. But the artist is clearly talented in this medium and there is nothing to dislike.
This was an enjoyable read. It was surprising how independent and adventurous the children were and the female lead was superb.