One of the great things about book blogging is being exposed to new things. I don't think I would have picked up Fallen Grace by Mary Hooper without an e-mail pitch. Books set in Victorian London aren't usually my forte. I'm into more contemporary literature, but it's always good to step outside your comfort zone.
The cover of Fallen Grace is quite intriguing. I was wondering who is this Grace? Why can't we see her face? What has she done? Why did she do it? The answers to those questions become clear very early. Fifteen-year-old Grace Parkes has just given birth to a stillborn child out of wedlock, and in 1860s London she is considered a fallen woman. A woman you look down upon. A woman who isn't held in high regard in society. It's hard to read that with a modern-day attitude because it just sounds so backwards. Does she not deserve the same amount of respect as other women?
Rather than facing the shame of burying her child in her neighborhood, Grace takes a train to a far out cemetery. She buries her child in the coffin of a woman, whom she thought could look after him in the next life. It's on this journey that Grace meets two people who will impact the rest of her life. Mrs. Unwin, a crooked and mysterious woman, offers employment and James Solent, a kind gentleman, offers advice and encouragement. Both offers are initially ignored as Grace has a more important job, surviving life with her older and very gullible sister Lily.
Orphaned at a young age, Grace has to be the adult. She has to figure out how to make money, how to keep a roof over their heads and ensure that Lily doesn't wander off. Selling watercress provides some financial relief, but the girls are constantly struggling. Lily fantasizes of their long-lost father returning, while Grace has to remain practical. She loves her sister deeply, but Grace can't get caught up in fantasy, especially when the rug is pulled out from under them. Homeless, the girls are desperate for any type of employment. But not desperate enough to go back to a workhouse. It was there that their innocence was stolen. Desperation leads them back to Mrs. Unwin and her equally unscrupulous husband, working as funeral mutes and as domestic help. The Unwins hold the key to Grace and Lily's future in more ways than one. You'll just have to read the book to understand what I mean.
Right away you fall in love with Grace and Lily as characters. Neither one of them ever had a break. They try so hard to make a life for themselves. Just when you think life is getting better for them, it gets worse. Lily wants to make their life better, too. But Lily doesn't think things through, she can easily be swindled. I just wanted to take Lily and shake some sense into her. But Grace has the strength not blow up at her sister. Their love and devotion for each other is clear.
The setting of book, Victorian London, is full of details. The funeral industry at the time seems extremely wacky, but you feel as if you've been transported back in time. Grace is hired to stand at funerals and look grief-stricken. Did such a thing exist? I guess it did. The descriptions sounded so believable. The rules of etiquette and societal rules seem backward by today's standards. Fans of historical fiction will gobble this one up.
Notes: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Bloomsbury) in exchange for an honest review. To learn more about author Mary Hooper, visit http://www.maryhooper.co.uk/