The Gilded Lily - Deborah Swift
I'll be honest here I'm in the fortunate position of receiving quite a few free books and win quite a few too and the excitement of winning a signed copy of a brand new title of a book I've heard good things about never dissipates (OK I admit that I'm a hopeless book addict). Which is why I literally jumped for joy when I won a signed copy of The Gilded Lily through www.http://dizzycslittlebookblog.blogger.com I KNEW I was going to like this historical fiction set in grimy, 17th century, restoration London.
When I received my copy and saw the gorgeous cover I was smitten, my only concern being that there is a previous book by the author The Lady's Slipper featuring some of the same characters and I worried it might be a little difficult to follow not having read it. My concerns were unfounded, this makes a great stand alone novel and a perfect introduction to the authors beautiful writing.
The Gilded Lily is the story of two sisters, Ella and Sadie, fleeing from their rural home in the North, taking items with them from Emmas previous employer to which she has no right. The girls head for the seething mass and anonymity of the city of London in a bid to escape persecution for a greater crime than the theft of some treasures, Ella swears she did not commit although it soon becomes apparent that she is a much more flighty and unreliable character than her shy, timid sister born with a disfiguring birthmark on her face. Unlike Sadie, whose natural instinct is to hide away from company, vivacious Ella is more ambitious and outgoing and soon forsakes the job both girls have found working in a Perrukiers weaving wigs from discarded human hair (yeeuch), for the chance to better herself and sets her cap at the enigmatic and striking Jay Whitgift, son of a respected pawnbroker seeking to diversify the family business in more ways than one.
The Gilded Lily is a ladies salon he opens in the grounds of the secondhand business, primarily to relive the wives and daughters of wealthy businessmen of their husbands hard earned wealth and he employs Ella to help him do this. Soon she gets ideas far above her station and despite Sadies loyalty to her flighty sister, she increasingly leaves Sadie to fend for herself in the squalor of their rented room in the delightfully named Blackraven lane. Meanwhile the search for the 2 fleeing sisters continues and their increasing notoriety means measures have to be taken to ensure they are not recognised in public and gradually both girls lives grow much worse.
It's stunningly written with a Dickensian quality, especially in the names of the vividly created characters and places. I was gripped from start to finish, and despite wanting to give Sadie a little shake now and again I had great empathy for her and enjoyed watching her character develop. It has taken a while to finish it, but the ending was full of action and very satisfying and I actually put the book down at around midnight with about 30 pages to go only to wake up at 1.30 am realizing I couldn't wait until the next day to find out what happened, so put on the bedside light and finished it there and then.
It's almost a coming of age novel but with huge depth and I liked it as much as one of my favourite books, Slammerkin, I'm actually relieved that I did enjoy it as much as I'd hoped (if not more) as sadly so often books which sound great don't quite live up to expectations - this one exceeds them and I will be rushing out to get a copy of the prequel to this today!