Book Review, Mary Hooper, Young Adult

Book Review: Fallen Grace by Mary Hooper

Grace Parkes has just had to do a terrible thing. Having given birth to an illegitimate child, she has travelled to the famed Brookwood Cemetery to place her small infant’s body in a rich lady’s coffin. Following the advice of a kindly midwife, this is the only way that Grace can think of to give something at least to the little baby who died at birth, and to avoid the ignominy of a pauper’s grave. Distraught and weeping, Grace meets two people at the cemetery: Mrs Emmeline Unwin and Mr James Solent. These two characters will have a profound affect upon Grace’s life. But Grace doesn’t know that yet. For now, she has to suppress her grief and get on with the business of living: scraping together enough pennies selling watercress for rent and food; looking after her older sister, who is incapable of caring for herself; thwarting the manipulative and conscience-free Unwin family, who are as capable of running a lucrative funeral business as they are of defrauding a young woman of her fortune. A stunning evocation of life in Victorian London, with vivid and accurate depictions, ranging from the deprivation that the truly poor suffered to the unthinking luxuries enjoyed by the rich: all bound up with a pacy and thrilling plot, as Grace races to unravel the fraud about to be perpetrated against her and her sister. (From Goodreads.com)

I love a good historical fiction now and then, in particular from the Victorian era, and so was extremely excited about reading this book. I wasn’t disappointed. Fallen Grace is a rags to riches tale of the very best kind and filled with the characters that make this kind of book so compelling. There’s tragic Grace, poverty stricken and badly treat yet hard working, kind and fiercely loyal; the detestable Unwin family, rich, cruel and conniving and the handsome young solicitor Mr James Solent, champion of the underdog. It reminds me a little of those saga’s I would steal from my Mum’s bookshelves years ago. I did love reading those books but often found them too long, spanning such a lengthy time period I would get bored or frustrated at yet another tragedy for the poor heroine. Covering just a year in Fifteen year old Grace’s life, Mary Hooper’s latest book doesn’t suffer this problem. It has everything needed for a deliciously juicy saga, but the story is contained and my attention was captured throughout the 300 pages.

I loved our heroine, Grace. She is tragic enough to gain sympathy but strong enough not to become pitying. Orphaned young and left to take care of her disabled older sister, despite the awful situation she finds herself in she remains loyal and loving. Her sister Lily is adorable. A young child in the body of a young woman, her simplistic naivety at the world is touching; although of course in the surrounding London slums, dangerous and extremely trying too. The other characters in the book are also extremely vivid, no matter how small their part and all of them were brought to life in my mind. I could almost see the book playing out as one of those fabulous Sunday evening TV drama adaptations as I read.

The setting of the book is described with such detail that while reading I felt transported to 19th century England. With a backdrop of the highly prosperous and opulent Victorian funeral industry the story is deliciously sinister and macabre, without being overly gruesome. While I knew that Queen Victoria took her mourning of Prince Albert extremely seriously, never again wearing anything but black, I didn’t know just how many rituals and rules of etiquette there were surrounding mourning dress. It was fascinating! As well, there are all the extravagant trimmings to ensure you give your loved one the most fashionable of send off’s, disguised as being ‘respectful and proper’ although largely made up by the Funeral industry itself to further enhance their wealth. It’s ironic that such fortunes were spent to bury the wealthy and aristocratic deceased, while the living poor suffered so terribly, having nothing to eat, no where to sleep and often working hours without shoes or warm clothes for a pittance. The contrast between the two is shocking. The amount of research Mary Hooper must have undertook to write this book is clear, and it pays off as the book is extremely interesting as well as being a fantastic read.

I thoroughly enjoyed Fallen Grace. The historical detail and the bizarre Funeral industry setting make it an original, interesting and sinister read. With character’s leaping from the pages and descriptions that will take you right to the heart of Victorian London, it’s a book to curl up cosy with and savour every last bit. There are some difficult themes such as rape and abuse, although neither in graphic detail (it happens before the book begins and so is mentioned but not described) and I think this book would appeal to fans of historical fiction of any age from age 12+ or for anyone with an interest in this period of history. This is the first book by Mary Hooper I have read, but I’m certain it won’t be the last.

Released on the 7th June 2010, thanks to the publishers (Bloomsbury) for sending me this copy for review.

9 thoughts on “Book Review: Fallen Grace by Mary Hooper”

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