Grace Parkes has just had to do a terrible thing. Having given birth to an illegitimate child, she has traveled to the famed Brookwood Cemetery to place her small infant's body in a rich lady's coffin. Following the advice of a kindly midwife, this is the only way that Grace can think of to give something at least to the little baby who died at birth, and to avoid the ignominy of a pauper's grave. Distraught and weeping, Grace meets two people at the cemetery: Mrs Emmeline Unwin and Mr James Solent. These two characters will have a profound affect upon Grace's life. But Grace doesn't know that yet. For now, she has to suppress her grief and get on with the business of living: scraping together enough pennies selling watercress for rent and food; looking after her older sister, who is incapable of caring for herself; thwarting the manipulative and conscience-free Unwin family, who are as capable of running a lucrative funeral business as they are of defrauding a young woman of her fortune. A stunning evocation of life in Victorian London, with vivid and accurate depictions, ranging from the deprivation that the truly poor suffered to the unthinking luxuries enjoyed by the rich: all bound up with a pacy and thrilling plot, as Grace races to unravel the fraud about to be perpetrated against her and her sister.
"Grace, holding on tightly to her precious burden, found the station entrance without much difficulty."
The good, the bad and the ugly of Victorian London. Poor Grace and her sister Lily are in the gutter of this city. The girls are orphans and rely on Grace to keep a roof over their heads and food in their stomachs.
Grace meets James Solent and Mrs. Emmeline Unwin at a cemetery while taking care of a personal tragedy. Solent and Unwin are opposite ends of the spectrum of humanity.
I was tense from almost the first page of this book! I connected with the characters, enjoyed the scenery and enjoyed the plot.
Some things I liked:
A newspaper clipping or epitaph or invitation introduced each chapter.
People hired funeral muses??
I learned a ton about funerals in Victorian England.
Grace is amazing and strong and scared.
Learning about history without knowing I was learning.
Charles Dickens has a cameo.
James is quite the gentleman.
Rating: PG 13
V: bad people
(We know Grace has been raped but the story around the story is done sensitively)
25% test (p. 74):
"...she hurried to change the subject. 'Forgive me, my dear, but how long ago did your poor mother die?'
'Near ten years back,' Grace answered.
'were there no other relatives who would take you in? What about your father?'
Grace shook her head. 'I've never known much about my father or his family,' she said. 'When Mama and he were married neither family approved of the match, and two years after that, when Lily was a year old and before Mama even knew she was expecting me, Papa went off to the Americas to seek his fortune.'
'Your poor mother! To be left without a protector!'
Grace nodded. 'She brought us up on a little inheritance she'd had from her grandparents and taught me to read and write quite early, hoping that one day I'd make a good marriage and be able to keep Lily as my companion.' She smiled wryly as she spoke, knowing that good marriages were not made in Seven Dials, and that the most a girl here might hope for would be to marry a coster with his own barrow. 'I started my training as a teacher and Lily was to learn about domestic duties, but then we had to leave...' Here Grace stopped and found it impossible to continue.
'And when was this?'
'Some...some nine months ago.'
'Nine months,' Mrs Beale repeated, and if she made the obvious connection was refined enough not to say anything about it. 'And you never heard from your father again?'