Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Book review: The Gilded Lily, by Deborah Swift

Deborah Swift's second novel has a slightly different setting from her debut, The Lady's Slipper, but it's just as much of an involving page-turner. The Gilded Lily works as more of a spin-off than a direct sequel, so both can be read independently. For those who'd like to take a walk on the darker side of Restoration England in the company of well-realized female characters, these books are for you.

In The Lady's Slipper, the wild folkloric beauty of Westmorland in northern England is on full display. With The Gilded Lily, readers are taken from the countryside to the less affluent districts of a grimly evoked London in 1661, a place where, as one of the protagonists observes, “the poor were always hungry, for nothing grew here.” Corruption is rife, and truth is forced to hide beneath layers of artifice.

Ella Appleby may be the instigator of the novel’s action, but she's not really the heroine; that honor belongs to her younger, gentler sister, Sadie. After Ella discovers her married employer/lover, Thomas Ibbetson, has died unexpectedly, she takes off, but not without clearing his house of all its valuables, and convincing Sadie to help her.

The young women flee Westmorland and strike out for London, where they hope to blend into its masses of people and make a fresh start. Mr Ibbetson's identical twin, Titus, has caught their scent, though, and will stop at nothing to capture the "savage sisters" that robbed and (he believes) murdered his brother.

Having proven herself talentless at wig-making, beautiful, ambitious Ella attracts the notice of Jay Whitgift, a dashing pawnbroker's son who she hopes to entice into marrying her. He installs her as a salesgirl in his new salon, the Gilded Lily, which provides salves and ointments to London's most elegant ladies. Both Whitgift and his business have a dark and shifty side, though, and Ella finds herself caught up in both the surface glamour and his underhanded schemes.

Sadie attracts attention, too, of the unwanted kind... thanks to the large port-wine birthmark on her face. She is an admirable character, especially in the face of her sister's greed and cruelty. Ella has good reason to be bitter at rich folk, so while she may be difficult to like, her character isn’t completely unsympathetic. The desperate situation brings out realistic extremes in both sisters -- Ella's bossiness and Sadie's powerlessness -- and as their relationship turns bitter, Titus Ibbetson moves in to trap them, and danger erupts from an even more sinister venue.

There are a lot of viewpoints to follow, not just that of Sadie and Ella but also Ibbetson, one of Sadie's friends, Whitgift, and his elderly father, among others. This ensures a wide-ranging perspective on the events unfolding around them. The text has a good balance of dialog and description, which makes for a faster read than you'd expect for a chunkster-length novel. The characters’ language has an authentic period feel, and as Ella and Sadie come to discover what matters most, the plot speeds ahead toward a very satisfying conclusion.

The Gilded Lily will be published by St. Martin's Griffin on November 27th at $15.00 (trade pb, 471pp).  This review is part of the author's blog tour with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours. For more information on Deborah Swift and her novels, see her website at www.deborahswift.co.uk.

24 comments:

  1. This sounds soooo good. I hope my library gets this as I really want to read it. Great review.

    Kimberlee
    http://girllostinabook.blogspot.com

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    1. Hi Kimberlee, hope you'll enjoy it too. Can you request purchases for your library? Mine lets patrons do that, and we like it because it means the book will definitely be checked out.

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  2. I agree with every word of your review -- I was really taken with this one -- the setting and characters were marvelous!

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    1. I especially liked the descriptions of the Frost Fair - not an event I see a lot of in historicals!

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  3. I'm lucky enough to have read The Gilded Lily and loved every word. So evocative.

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    1. Hi Grace, I definitely agree!

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  4. Hello, Sarah! I'm so glad you enjoyed The Gilded Lily. Deborah shows readers a side of London far different from the world of kings, princesses, and the upper crust.

    I'm hoping Deborah makes it to this side of the "pond" for the next Historical Novel Society's conference. She's generous to other writers, and she'd be a big hit!

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    1. Hi, Ann! That's one reason I enjoy her books so much; her Royalty Free Fiction site is also wonderful.

      I hope she'll be at the next conference, too. Are you planning to attend? (Hope so!) I'll be there but still need to register.

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    2. I've met Dee Swift via e-mail since she and I have the same UK publisher. Meeting authors like as Dee is a thrill.

      That's one of the great things about the HNS conference. I haven't registered yet but I have it marked on my calendar. I missed the last one, and I don't want to make that mistake again. I'm very tempted to volunteer.

      Happy Thanksgiving!

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    3. Happy Thanksgiving to you too!

      That sounds great. I'll look forward to seeing you in Florida. Volunteering is fun. I especially liked working at registration and seeing everyone as they arrived.

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    4. Great news! I've been in touch with Deborah Swift and she's going to make the trip from England to be at the HNS conference in June. This is everyone's chance to meet her.

      This motivated me to hurry up and register. I checked the box for volunteers. It does sound like fun.

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    5. That's excellent news she'll be attending. We had a strong North American presence in London this fall, and I was hoping we'd see many UK authors in Florida as well.

      My name will be on the registration list in the very near future.

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  5. Sounds so good! I recently bought this book but its waiting to be read, think I'll make it my next one.

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    1. Please let me know what you think if you read it next!

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  6. Sounds like one for the TBR file! I don't see too many novels set in that time period - do you have a theory on why that is?

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    1. I agree... there's very little set during the Restoration unless it takes place in Charles II's court. My guess as to why - the politics are fairly complex, and the era isn't as familiar to readers as others. That's why I like it, though!

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  7. I began reading it yesterday. The writing is beautiful. Very distinctive and exceptionally talented Deborah Swift.

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    1. I'm especially looking forward to her next book, which I've been reading about. 17th-c England and Spain - I'm there.

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  8. Wow, great review. This sounds fantastic. I didn't love The Lady's Slipper but I may try this one anyway!
    2 Kids and Tired Books

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    1. I found the pacing of this novel to be somewhat faster, but I enjoyed them both.

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  9. I don't mean to go off-topic, but I know the love of history runs through the posts here as the blood through its veins, and I would like to highly recommend the film Lincoln.

    It's actually an intelligent movie, and the best rendition of politics I've ever seen on the screen.

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  10. I really enjoyed both of Deborah Swift's books when I read them earlier this year!

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  11. I loved this book - as you said it really gives you a look at the shadier side of the time period. I thought the frost fair was just too cool. I have been wanting to read The Lady Slipper for awhile and now really have to! Great review.

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    1. The Lady's Slipper was great!

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