The Sleighmaker: A Christmas Story That’s Never Been Told By Ian Shepherd

As warming as a hot minced pie and mulled wine, this unashamedly traditional Christmas story will delight children and adults alike.

Set in the late 1800s, it’s a bitter-sweet tale that harks back to the traditional yuletide tales of the Victorian era.

An impressive debut novel by Ian Shepherd, The Sleighmaker is ostensibly aimed at children aged seven and up, though it will certainly appeal to kids in a higher age bracket. While it might be a little challenging for seven-year-olds to read by themselves, grown-ups are sure to enjoy reading it to younger children.

The main character is Drummond, a master-craftsman once known as the most talented sleighmaker in the land.

After a tragic event, Drummond turns his back on his trade and leads a lonely life, shunning the company of others, before an old friend manages to get him to agree to work on the estate of the local gentry, Lord and Lady Harrington.Here he labours alone, embracing the solitude his new work gives him, until his life is changed by the arrival of a cheerful young boy known only as William, whose way with animals manages to prevent a riding accident involving the Harrington’s young son, Henry.

Wise beyond his years, William comes to work as Drummond’s apprentice and, along with his close companion, kitchen maid Marny, manages slowly but surely to bring a warmth back to the sleighmaker’s life.

William discovers a magnificent sleigh that Drummond had once built, now mothballed in his workshop, and eventually convinces his master to restore it for the coming winter parade.

Filled with a real sense of purpose for the first time since the tragedy, Drummond gets to work on the sleigh, enlisting the help of his friend and artist, Auguste.

It’s not easy for Drummond to continue, given his traumatic experiences, but with the loving support of William and Marny he fashions a sleigh fit for a king.

There’s a magical twist to the tale that I won’t spoil, but it’s enough to say that Drummond’s sleigh gets to serve its purpose with aplomb and is finally rekindled with the Christmas spirit and the promise of a bright future.

The Sleighmaker is an unashamedly traditional Christmas tale a million miles away from the typical modern children’s books, and is all the better for it.

The sad but ultimately uplifting story of Drummond is rich with description and nuance, presents engaging characters with depth, and though dealing with some dark issues, does so in a sensitive way.

Ian Shepherd revels in the sights, sounds and tastes of a Victorian Christmas, with readers almost able to taste the rich cakes and chocolates, fresh-baked bread and hot soups that the author so evocatively describes.

And he is confident to take his time with the narrative, building up to the wonderful and memorable ending without ever rushing and forcing things.

It’s a charming, classic Christmas story that celebrates all that is good and true about this most special time of year and it would no doubt work very well on the big screen.

For anyone who yearns to return to a simpler, less commercial time; when Christmas was still a magical occasion about family and enjoying your time together as opposed to staring zombified into digital devices; this novel will be sure to delight.
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.

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