In her short life, Sadie Appleby has never left rural Westmorland. But one night she is rudely awoken by her older and bolder sister, Ella. She has robbed her recently deceased employer and is on the run. Together the girls flee their home and head for London, hoping to lose themselves in the teeming city. But the dead man's relatives are in pursuit, and soon a game of cat and mouse ensues amongst the freezing warren that is London in winter.
Ella is soon seduced by the glitter and glamour of city life and sets her sights on the flamboyant man-about-town, Jay Whitgift, owner of a beauty parlour for the wives of the London gentry. But nothing in the capital is what it seems, least of all Jay Whitgift. Soon a rift has formed between Ella and Sadie, and the sisters are threatened by a menace more sinister than even the law.
Set in a brilliantly realised Restoration London, The Gilded Lily is a novel about beauty and desire, about the stories we tell ourselves, and about how sisterhood can be both a burden and a saving grace.
Seventeenth-century London comes to life in this gritty story about sisters and survival. It's a tale of the inner workings of London and the many people who make up the great machine of industry and commerce that keeps it all running. Though Charles II rules over them with his notoriously extravagant and debauched court, it means nothing to the characters of this tale, who must fight, grasp, struggle, and reach for any opportunity at a better life among the trash-heaped, grime-covered, cutthroat streets of London's working-class neighborhoods.
Ella Appleby is a bold young woman from the little village of Netherbarrow who dreams of a life more worldly and important than the one she was born to. When a dishonest opportunity to attain such a life presents itself, she takes it, and takes her younger sister Sadie along for the ride. Arriving in London with a trunk full of stolen goods, Ella is convinced the girls will be able to hide from the law and live a better life, two faces in a sea of millions. But it doesn't take long for the girls to realize their new life is not going to be so easy, with jobs scarce, and food and firewood even scarcer, and especially when wanted posters start appearing around town describing the girls, and Sadie's port-wine birthmark, to a tee.
Ella catches a lucky break and accepts a position in pawnbroker Jay Whitgift's boutique for fashionable ladies, but Sadie is forced into hiding and relying on Ella for her survival. As Ella is tantalized by the glamour of her new job and caught up in Jay's plans for the future, which she desperately wants to be a part of, she begins to resent Sadie and her birthmark, and her obligation to keep her safe and sound. As Ella grasps higher and higher for a prize beyond her reach, Sadie grows increasingly lonely and remorseful, and disapproving of Ella's lifestyle, and the sisters' relationship deteriorates at the time when they need each other the most. Though it is Ella who plots and schemes and reaches for what she thinks will be a better life, it is Sadie who forms the real heart of this tale, a beacon of hope and honesty and goodness in a world of adversity and poverty and immorality. When Ella's glamorous position takes a turn toward the dark side, her plans begin to crumble, and the law draws its net around her, Sadie has to find the courage to fend for herself and to reach for her own happiness, and to save her sister before it's too late.
The Gilded Lily is impeccably written historical fiction. The detail is superb and life in London is so vividly depicted that the city seems to take on its own persona and become a lurking character in the story, one that is always there, and one whose motives are never clear. The characters are incredibly well-developed and realistic, and even the supporting and tertiary characters are multi-faceted. I was delighted by the use of period language and street slang; it really enhanced the atmosphere without ever being cumbersome or unnatural. I did find the pacing of the story to be very slow and I felt like it took me a long time to finish it, but in a way it is the type of novel that needs to be savored slowly, because it so completely brings the time period to life that you almost want to stop and revel in it for a while to soak up the experience and make sure you don't miss any fascinating little detail. Overall I found The Gilded Lily to be an enjoyable read, a bit heavy, but rich in ambiance and character-driven story, and a transporting view into the life of everyday people in Restoration London.
My Rating: 4 Stars out of 5
The Gilded Lily is on a blog tour!
Deborah Swift will be here on the 21st with an interview and an international giveaway!
Click here to view the tour schedule.
Click here to visit Deborah's website.