I fell in love with the wonderful intriguing title and description of this book, I love a quirky historical novel, I adore a feisty female protagonist who is ahead of her time, I don’t even mind lots of sex scenes in the right context. When I discovered the Wray Delaney is no less than the adult nom de plume of wonderful author Sally Gardner whose books for younger readers have already entranced me I wanted it even more. Oh and the cover - isn't it striking!
Then I began to read reviews which compared it to my favourite book of all time “The Crimson Petal and the White” and then liken it to the historical works of Sarah Waters, to say I was excited is an understatement, I nearly wet myself when my request for an advance copy was approved! I just had to start reading it straight away.
Perhaps the hype was a little too much. Maybe I was setting my expectations too high? Because sadly this just wasn’t to my taste as much as I really wanted it to be.
Rather than comparing it to my favourite books mentioned above, I would liken it more to a blend of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, the Night circus and Moll Flanders (none of which I liked much) with a touch of 6th sense. It has a lot of magical, mystical happenings which are never really explained and made it all the harder for me to accept. I'm a bit too pragmatic to like magic and fantasy.
It begins in 18th century London where young Tully Truegood, a Dickensian name if ever I heard one, is taken at a tender age by her wicked and drunken father to a place where she is married to a man she has never met. Then her drunken sot of a Father, who teats her like a slave, re-marries and brings into Tullys life a colourful step mother who actually seems to care for her and two step sisters who extend slightly more than the hand of friendship to young Tully and thus begins her education.
But good things never last and her Fathers bride, Queenie disappears to set up a house of ill repute known for some obscure reason as The Fairy House. Tully, at first abandoned, soon ends up there and is trained to become a courtesan, not that she needs much encouraging, she is born to this life as she is obsessed with satisfying the flesh, her greatest talents are fornication and floating!
The book is written in the very tongue in cheek vernacular of the day and although I agree it sets the scene it began to grate on me. There are only so many references to throbbing roots, tight little ladies purses and moist mounds of Venus one can take, and this book repeats and repeats these terms ad infinitum (which did not sit well with me at all). For me this makes everything lewder and cruder and less easy to become immersed in. Although the actual sex scenes aren’t that graphic, they are just frequent, lengthy and rather gratuitous.
Our feisty little tart with a heart, is not only a profligate whore obsessed with satisfying her curiosity about sex but she can see dead people, in fact she can conjure them up at will, Oh and not just people but the ghosts of pets too. Let me see, what else can this enterprising young woman do – she can float!
When she’s not levitating around the room, she is romping around naked with a variety of willing partners, and soon she falls in love. But her unknown husband of her childhood re-appears on the scene and she soon finds herself languishing in Newgate Prison awaiting trial for murder.
The story then begins to weave back and forth in time to reveal the whys and wherefores of how this situation came about.
A lot of readers have commented how engaging Tully is and I think that’s where everything fell a bit flat I didn’t warm to her, I didn’t find her very empathetic and the storyline is so improbable, it just wasn’t quite earthy and gritty enough too ethereal and frilly and, Oh my sir, where are you going to put that big thing! (this is not a quote just an impression)
If you love magical, inexplicable events and a story that’s lusty, quirky and rather different you’ll most likely adore this. It's a tale of sexual enlightenment and fantasy, a coming of age with more coming than age.
I fall back on the old adage “It’s not you – It’s me”. If it’s to your taste, you'll enjoy this novel, in fact thousands of readers are going to adore it. But it left me with a slight sense of disappointment and unrequited desire for a meatier, epic historical tale when I would sum it up as, a Bawdy romp with fantasy and magic.
It's available now in Hardcover and for your kindle.
My thanks go to the publisher Harlequin UK for providing my copy via Netgalley.
I would like to make myself the heroine of this story and my character to be noble – an innocent victim led astray. But alas sir, I would be lying…
Tully Truegood: Orphan, Magician’s apprentice, Whore. In prison, accused of murder, Tully begins to write her life story. A story that takes her from a young daughter-skivvy in the back streets of 18th Century London to her stepmother Queenie’s Fairy House – a place where decadent excess is a must…
Trained by Queenie to become a courtesan, and by Mr Crease – a magician who sees that Tully holds similar special powers to his own – together they make Tully the talk of the town.
But as Tully goes on a journey of sexual awakening, she falls in love with one of her clients and the pleasure soon turns to pain. Especially when the estranged husband she was forced to marry by her father suddenly seeks her out. Now Tully is awaiting her trial for murder, for which she expects to hang…and her only chance of survival is to get her story to the one person who might be able to help her.