Review published on December 3, 2017.
I have a huge soft spot for big, Dickensian-style Victorian-set novels like Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith and Michel Faber’s Crimson Petal And The White. Some recent much-hyped offerings have not lived up to my expectations but this debut novel certainly does. I think Laura Carlin has got everything more or less spot on here and has written an authentic historical novel and a really good thrilling page-turner.
Young people have been going missing from the London streets for some time and eighteen-year-old Hester, the narrator of the novel, has fallen on hard times. An incident in Smithfield Market leads her to an association with a family who could provide her with a future or who may bring about further downfall. The story builds beautifully, and although the situations and characters may feel familiar for Dickens fans, Carlin puts it all together in a way which is inventive, thrilling and feels new.
At the heart is a relationship between Hester and the daughter of the family, Rebekah Brock, who has been persuaded Pygmalion-like to educate Hester in a plan arranged by her brother Calder, a leading light of The London Society for the Suppression of Mendicity and it is this connection between the two women which will attract all Sarah Waters fans to this novel.
Like Dickens, secrets are revealed gradually by characters brought in to move the plot along and Hester’s account turns into a quite extraordinary tale of grim London existences underneath the cloak of the respectable and socially acceptable. The last third sees the plot move up a gear considerably as revelations follow one after another and the danger Hester puts herself into had me holding my breath.
This novel is proof alone that Carlin is a major new talent and her brand of literary historical fiction should provide her with big sales. I absolutely loved it.
Phil Ramage 5/5
The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin
Hodder & Stoughton 9781473661370 hbk Feb 2018
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