Thank you to Netgalley and Hodder & Stoughton for this ARC, which was given to me in exchange for an honest review.
I honestly didn’t expect to like this – probably not the best opening to a review. It’s not at all the sort of book I usually read. Historical fiction, with running themes of crime and mystery? Not for me. Well, that’s what I thought before I read this book. Now? Now I don’t know what to think, because this book caught me by surprise.
It’s 1831 and we’re in the dingy backstreets of London, following Hester White, a young orphaned woman who has unfortunately fallen into the slums of the city from her original, better off position. After an accident, Hester is plucked from her life and placed into the world of the aristocratic Brock’s. Soon, with the help of Rebekah Brock, she is thrown into danger, investigating murders and disappearances, whilst also falling in love. It’s a tale of twists and turns – I honestly didn’t see any of the twists coming, which we could blame on my unfamiliarity with mysteries, but I’m going to say it was the quality of the writing. It really was good. From the very first page, I found myself drawn in to Hester’s world, visualising the dank darkness of 19th Century London and the lush opulence of the Brock lifestyle. But nothing was as it seemed in this book. Just when I thought I had it all sussed, everything worked out, the rug was pulled from under me, and I was left reeling. However, sometimes the pacing was a little off. Whilst there were the ‘oh my God, really?’ moments that a good mystery should have, often it took a little while to get there, sometimes dragging along. I’d say that for the first half of the book I was left wondering whether we would ever return to the disappearances in London, whether there was any connections between anything at all, but once I reached the second half I couldn’t put it down, desperate to find out the truth – this was particularly the case in the final few chapters. What a shocker that was…
Hester was a really likeable character. I found myself really able to empathise with her, never finding her emotions and concerns irritating. Her character was built and formed really well, giving me the right amount of details as a reader to be able to form my own opinion about her. She wasn’t whiney either, which considering her situation, could have happened. She never seemed ungrateful or mopey about her life, always trying to find the best in it, which definitely helped with her appeal. I also really liked Rebekah – I enjoyed the fact she was a little bit of an enigma at the beginning, allowing Hester to get to know her better and to form her own opinion. She was strong-willed and charismatic, but also struggling with her place in life and the pressures that surround her. She was definitely a relatable character, never feeling too unrealistic with her issues. The relationship that forms between Hester and Rebekah isn’t too contrived either, nor is it the main focus of the book. It’s underlying, something that simmers and ignites throughout, never detracting from the core plot. By the end, I felt every emotion they did, to the point that when reading the last few chapters on the train home, I almost missed my stop. That was how engaging the writing was within this book.
There’s a lot to be said for a book that manages to place you so firmly within it’s world, leading you on a journey that takes you through not only the day to day, but also the surprises and devastations that come with it. There are family secrets to be discovered, strained relationships to explore, and grotesque truths to be unearthed. I do feel that the uncovering of the disappearances, and the revelation behind them, could have been explored a little more. I loved the end, I couldn’t put it down, but I felt a little cheated by the answers I received. However, I did genuinely enjoy this work and the stories it had to tell. Despite suffering from a slightly slow middle section, the suspense and intrigue of this book definitely means I’d recommend it, particularly if you like mysteries. Having said that, even if you don’t, give this one a try. It might surprise you!