8 August 2011
REVIEW: FALLEN GRACE
Author: Mary Hooper
Series: No, standalone
UK Publisher: Bloomsbury
UK release date: June 2011
Genre: Historical fiction
Kindly sent by the publisher for an honest review
Orphaned sisters Lily and Grace struggle to survive in Victorian London, selling cress to keep a roof over their heads. At only 16, Grace is a fallen woman and must find a way to bury her stillborn child. In doing so she finds herself crossing paths with the Unwins, unscrupulous funeral directors who will not only save her from the workhouse but also try to rob her of much more.
Review: From the very start I was drawn into Grace’s world and her struggle to care for herself and her sister. Despite all the hardships and blows she suffers, Grace carries on and perseveres. Vulnerable, determined and plucky she shows a remarkable strength of character, and is one of the few characters I’ve come across that really tugs on my heartstrings. Told primarily from her perspective, Fallen Grace is a compelling story about this sweet young girl.
With a child’s mind, her sister Lily tries desperately hard to do the best, but is taken advantage of at every corner. As pawnshops and con artists trick her out of money for their own benefit, it made me think how hard it must have been to live in such times if you weren’t savvy and constantly vigilant.
The portrayal of the Unwin family and their funeral business is dark, sinister and slightly macabre. Emotionally blackmailing grieving families into paying beyond their means for a fancy funeral, they scam and scheme money from anyone they can. When Grace turns to them for help you instantly realise that they are truly manipulative and wicked people.
Victorian London is wonderfully portrayed in all its filth and finery. Little snippets at the start of each chapter from Dickens and newspaper adverts help build a picture of the splendor the rich live in as well as typical Victorian life and going-ons. There is a stark contrast between those living in poverty with no shoes on their feet and searching the streets for litter and those from the upper classes riding through Hyde Park in carriages and fine clothes. Rather than the romantic view of the rich, Fallen Grace looks at both sides and gives a very realistic and captivating perspective of daily life.
Mary Hooper obviously did a lot of background research into the historical element as they were so many facets of London and Victorian life that I never even knew about such as the different mourning stages and the steam train taking coffins to a cemetery outside the city. These details really help bring the story alive by adding authenticity and make me imagine what piece of history I could be walking past everyday as I walk the streets of London.
A delightfully dark and gripping read full of Victorian London slums and splendor, and the plight of Fallen Grace as she fights for what is rightfully hers.