Mary Hooper certainly does plough the ‘history’ into her historical fiction. This book is saturated with detail of Victorian London, routines, etiquette, tradition, living conditions and of course the class system. There is so much that you can practically breathe in the thick, choking smog of a London night or smell the putrid corners of the lower levels of life. Mary Hooper clearly adores this era and the rich tapestry it provides. Anyone unaware of Victorian England will certainly learn an awful lot from this book, including some ‘of the times’ language and activity. It is very interesting and the appendices in the back help to thicken the knowledge of the period, but I wonder if all of it was entirely necessary.
The story follows Grace and her catalogue of sorry circumstances. Not only has being orphaned forced her into the lower classes but her age, gender and pride make earning a living rather difficult. Her hand-to-mouth existence came was due to her escape from another rather harrowing incident. But Grace works hard to keep not only herself but her ‘simple’ older sister. Eventually she is employed by the Unwin family, a rather devious and rich family of funeral directors. Through the Victorian age, funerals were almost more splendid and lucrative than weddings, particularly following the death of the much loved Prince Albert. Through Grace’s tale, I believe we discover almost all there could be to know about funeral homes in the late nineteenth century. This was genuinely fascinating (although, possibly a little too detailed in places) and set as a perfect back drop for what I assumed to be a modern take on the Victorian Gothic.
It transpires that Grace is in fact an heiress – something the Unwin’s had discovered before her employment. Being the fiendish devils they are, Grace and her sister are separated as the Unwin’s make their own fraudulent plans to take the inheritance. However, due to a bizarre (and quite thin) coincidence Grace has help on her side and what I thought should have been a dark, twisted tale turned more into fairytale, but without the sparkly magic.
I finished the book a little confused and disappointed. It was a perfectly good story with plenty of intrigue and interest, but perhaps it was my gothic desire that asked more of it. I think I was expecting a more adult tale (considering its opening subject) which just dwindled into something child like and, dare I say, fairly middle of the road. I don’t wish to insult Mary Hooper as I think her writing style is great, engaging, fluid and interesting, but I think more could have been made of the backdrop. Victorian London was a thoroughly unpleasant place to be and although this comes across in the historical detail, the most was not made of it. The twists were sadly predictable and the resolution a little weak; both I think could have been strengthened by fully embracing the darkness and surreality of the Victorian Gothic.
A pleasant read and well worth the time if you enjoy those extra historical facts, but definitely a book for teen readers. I am really sad to say that Fallen Grace just doesn’t cut it as a YA book that crosses the bridge, which is actually not a bad thing. Too many adults (myself included) are jumping on the YA bandwagon, finding such books as engaging (if not more) than some adult fiction. It is actually quite refreshing to come across a modern story that fits its purpose; it is intended for intelligent teenage girls and should be kept as so. This is a very good book for them and adults can just go back to their own genre!
Which is what I intend to do next, by reading the final Steig Larsson book, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest.