Fallen Grace by Mary Hooper 5 of 5 stars.
Life has been nothing but unfair to Grace Parkes and her sister. Penniless, the two orphans manage to stay alive--but only barely, like so many on the streets of Victorian London. And Grace must bear a greater heartbreak, having become pregnant from terrible circumstances and then given birth to a stillborn baby. But the infant's death sets Grace on a new path, bringing her into contact with people who hold both riches and power. A great fraud has been perpetrated on young Grace and her sister, and they are the secret recipients of a most unusual legacy--if only they can find the means to claim it. This breakout novel by Mary Hooper offers Dickensian social commentary, as well as malicious fraud, mysterious secrets, and a riveting read. (Book blurb)
Grace and Lily Parkes know all to well what hardship means. Not long after Grace was born their father left for the Americas in search of a fortune. Just a few years later their mother died. Surviving both a London orphanage and a few months in training school, Grace finds herself on the street. She must learn to fend for not only herself and her simple sister, but also the unwanted baby growing inside her.
But Victorian London does not approve of unwed mothers, and when it comes time for Grace to give birth none of the hospitals will accept her. Finding a charity house that deals with young, unwed mothers Grace gives birth to a stillborn child. The burial of her baby sets in motion things that Grace could have never before imagined, and brings her unwittingly into the empire of death and mourning that spins silently at the heart of London.
Fallen Grace is a beautifully told Gothic mystery that shows the shadowy world of undertaking fueled, in part, by the pomp and grandeur of the upper-classes of Victorian London. Heartbreak, redemption, and surprise embody this wonderful story by a seasoned historical fiction author who doesn't mind showing the truly gritty streets of Victorian England.
I greatly enjoyed this novel. I had no idea what a big deal undertaking was in Victorian England, and the way Mary Hooper showed how Prince Albert's death affected this business was very interesting. She set it up quite nicely by showing us Albert from the girl's point of view, as well as showing that the evictions of the time were order (so to speak) by Prince Albert who wanted to help the lower classes. It was obvious that while the majority of the public held him in high esteem, most would not have felt the need (and certainly couldn't afford) the rather extreme decry by Queen Victoria that the public be in morning for her husband for so long.
One of my favorite parts of the story was Lily. All of the characters in the novel were wonderfully well-written, but there was something uniquely complex about Lily and her situation. The novel alternates between the two sisters' points of view and while reading from Lily's POV I automatically assumed her to be the sweet, younger sister. It wasn't until a bit later in the story I realized she was the older. For a moment I was confused until in the simplest of 19th century terms it was declared that Lily had a mental handicap. She was simple. So many people throughout the story expected her to be stupid, and indeed, she was naive, but she proved them all wrong in the end. She was truly someone you could cheer for even more so than for sensible Grace who did such a wonderful and selfless job taking care of her sister.
The only thing I disliked about the story was the ending. The very ending itself was perfect, but I would have liked to have seen more before that. What happened with Grace and James Solent? Where did Grace and Lily move to? I would even like to see a sequel! But I understand that sometimes its better to leave the endings of these things to the imagination, so I cannot fault Mary Hooper for that.
If you love the Victoria-era, Dickens, or just historical fiction in general, you will adore this book!
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A special thanks to BloomsburyUSA for the review copy and to Mary Hooper for answering all of my questions! Please leave a comment for her below.