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The Prentice-Boy

I was genuinely sorry to finish this book. It had me completely engaged… and I loved the clever surprise in the middle of it.

Louis de Bernieres, author of Captain Corelli's Mandolin

Ray Rumsby takes a historical figure, the maestro of the aqua-tint engraving William Daniell, and imagines his encounter with a street urchin called Jesse Cloud. Their relationship unfolds against a backdrop of mail-coaches, work-houses, laudanum, patronage, muddy streets, houses of ill-repute and all the paraphernalia of early nineteenth century London. But at the same time the story bears witness to social reform, early women’s suffrage, the emancipation of slaves, gender & class mobility, and shows how our contemporary concerns have a long history.  

As their relationship evolves they move from the formality of master and apprentice to something more akin to friendship (across the yawning social divide) and each makes possible a shift in the other’s destiny. Writing through the eye and viewpoint of a distinguished (though largely forgotten) artist allows Rumsby to conjure in his writing a vivid visual sense of an England both lost and familiar.

Hugh Lupton, author of The Ballad of John Clare

A wonderful novel told in two very distinctive voices. William Daniell is the lusty, naive, dedicated artist, always in debt because essentially kind. Jesse Cloud is his wily, determined apprentice. Both have secrets. Both are in need of each other. This is a pulsing, captivating narrative that evokes the 1800s in convincing, colourful detail. Its exploration of class, poverty and women’s rights resonates. A wholly enjoyable read.

Lynne Bryan, author of fiction and non-fiction, and tutor for the National Writer’s Centre

The Prentice-Boy


Print ISBN:

Ebook ISBN:  



Print Length:

308 Pages





Available in paperback and ebook

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In 1820, London aquatint artist William Daniell hires Jesse Cloud, a homeless teenager, as his apprentice. Nothing is as it seems. A tour of East Anglia forces them to confront each other’s secrets and their own delusions. The artist must learn how to see and his prentice must learn how to survive – while the truth shatters all. 

Today’s concerns of inequality, refugees and gender identity powerfully resonate in this notable debut novel. Read it to discover both their world and ours.

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