The Gilded Lily by Deborah Swift
Author: Deborah Swift
Genre: Fiction (Historical / UK / 17th Century / London / Sibling Relationships / Criminal Activity / Intrigue / Social Climbing)
Publisher/Publication Date: Pan Macmillan (9/13/2012)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Rating: Liked to love!
Did I finish?: I did -- raced through this one in two nights!
One-sentence summary: Two sisters in Restoration London struggle to avoid arrest, freezing to death, and other challenges in this evocative historical novel.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction
Do I like the cover?: Eh -- I don't hate it but it's just sort of ambigu-historical.
I'm reminded of...: Lynn Cullen, Sandra Gulland
First line: Anyone else would probably scream -- woken in the night like that, with a hand clamped over the mouth in the pitch black.
Do... I love that the author offers writer retreats at her house in a historical village in Lancaster, UK?: YES. It makes me wish I had a novel in the works and the funds to escape!
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy!
Why did I get this book?: I'd heard nothing but raves about Swift's first novel, The Lady's Slipper.
Review: Set in the 1660s, the story follows Ella and Sadie Appleby, girls from rural England who flee to London after a tragedy with Ella's employer, and there they find themselves struggling to survive. Restoration London for these two is dark, dank, dirty, and exhausting, and Swift's writing made the grime, fog, and muck all too real. (I wanted to shower every time I put the book down!)
Ella -- beautiful and bold -- gets a job as a sales girl at an unusual ladies boutique called The Gilded Lily. Sadie, marked with a noticeable birthmark on her face, remains cloistered in their rented room as relatives of Ella's dead employer search London for them. Ella becomes enamored of her new employer and her increasing status as a London icon, while Sadie bristles at being trapped -- literally, as Ella locks her away to keep her sister from being tempted out into public, risking capture.
I was immediately grabbed by this book -- the novel opens with a bang -- and Ella and Sadie are fascinating characters. Swift shows their complicated relationship -- selfish Ella, shy Sadie -- and I liked both of them a good deal (even Ella, who did some rather despicable things!). There's intrigue and scandal -- this is Restoration England -- but instead of royal mistresses, The Gilded Lily features common women scrabbling for fame and fortune, safety, some measure of comfort.
One of the things I loved about this book was Swift's use of dialogue. She used what I presume were historical phrases and slang -- at times a little surprising, but I was able to guess the meaning through context -- and I appreciated that never once did the story, or the characters, sound anachronistic. (Or worse, my pet peeve, overly Shakespearean or classical.) I should note I'm reading the UK edition of this book; I don't know if the dialogue will be 'Americanized' for the US edition (I hope not.).
I also appreciated the focus on sisters - sibling relationships in historical fiction is always fun -- and the seedy focus of the story. (It is, however, pretty low on the risque factor, to my surprise.) I was initially apprehensive when I heard this was a follow up to Swift's first novel, The Lady's Slipper, as I hadn't read it, but from the author's note at the end of the book, it seems the main character of that book is a peripheral figure in this one.
At more than 460 pages, this is a chunky historical that raced, with enough intrigue and distinctive characters to keep me glued to the pages. A fun read especially if royal romances aren't your kind of historical.
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I'm thrilled to offer one copy of The Gilded Lily to a lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US and international readers, ends 10/12. For another chance to enter, be sure to check out my interview with Deborah Swift.