Elijah, Lily and Pearl are all orphans in Victorian London; but whilst Elijah and Lily are rescued from the foundling hospital by their grandfather – Augustus Lamb – Pearl is rescued from the Thames and taken to “The House of Mermaids”, a nearby brother run by the elusive Mrs Hibbert and at the age of fourteen is sold to the highest bidder. That bidder is the artist, Osbourne Black, and from then on Pearl’s life becomes entwined with that of the twins in an unimaginable nightmare.
I do like Victorian mystery stories. It’s the perfect era to set them – everywhere is dark and forbidding and nasty and it is no surprise if appalling things seem to happen to people. Elijah and Lily, on the surface, seem to have escaped all that, but by the end of the novel we can see that their life is just as challenging as Pearl’s.
I really liked the device of writing from Pearl’s point of view and then Lily’s. They were so different that it added a lot to the suspense to go from one to the other. The trouble is, I wasn’t so sure I particularly liked them or sympathised with them, particularly Pearl, as they appeared to be using anyone and everyone just as badly as anyone else in the story.
In fact, the lack of a sympathetic character is the reason that I gave this novel 3 stars. The person I liked most is Elijah, but he actually appears in it less than almost anyone else. The rest of them seem to have hidden agendas coming out of their ears and be happy to be as horrible as they like to each other to get what they want.
I also really did not like the reveals at the end which I thought were unnecessary and rather nasty. The way in which Osbourne Black is dealt with seems to come from nowhere, and the secret letter that Lily finds seems completely contrived. I would have liked the book to be 100 pages shorter and have left these bits out – I would have enjoyed that more.
So, in summary, a dark and brooding Victorian mystery with pretty nasty characters all the way through. Make of that what you will…