Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Book Review: Fallen Grace by Mary Hooper

I’ve always been a big fan of Mary Hooper’s historical books (which are usually about the lives of ordinary people at the time the book was set but usually mentioning famous people then to keep the book realistic) and I was very thrilled when she came on an author visit to my school. At that time, which was a few months before the publication of the book, I had a brief look at the cover leaf (which was stunning and suited the book so perfectly) and could not wait to read it. As I pre-ordered it, I managed to get it a few days before publication, which was great! Fallen Grace is Mary Hooper’s first Victorian set book (that has always been my favourite period of history) and there aren’t as many young adult historical fiction books set in that time period.

Publisher description:

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.

Having read all of Mary Hooper’s other brilliant historical books before, she had a high expectation to live up to and I wasn’t disappointed at all. I found Fallen Grace beautifully compelling with a twisting plot and vivid characters: hard working Grace, the deceiving Unwins (funeral directors) and a kindly young man, Mr James Solent that all brought the book to life. Infact, I thought that it slightly surpassed her other books and shows just how much she has progressed in her writing since she was writing her modern teenage fiction series about a young girl called Megan.

Characters (main and favourites):

I loved the heroine Grace who was vulnerable and tragic enough for the story and the poor living that she and her older sister Lily make but also had a strong will and loyal spirit that clung onto hope even in times when the sisters had barely a penny to rub together. Through all the things that she has to bear, from making sure there is food to eat and money to pay the rent with day to day to dealing with an unwanted pregnancy and the death of the baby, she is a very resilient girl. I think that this was a nice balance as the story of the two originally wellborn girls who dropped into destitution and into the world of severe poverty and hunger in London’s notorious Seven Dial slums could easily have turned into an unbearably sad tale.

Also, she is not like the typical girl who is verging on destitution, as she is well mannered to the people she meets and tries to keep the values that her mother taught her as a small girl before she died. Another thing -which I liked- that Grace tries to keep remnants of their past life such as a pretty hand decorated tea cup, which is worth a good deal of money but she refuses to pawn unless there is no other option.

Another main character is Lily, Grace’s childlike older sister who is unable to care for herself. She was adorable and always tried her best to please Grace and loved having stories told to her at night. Their bond together really made me care about them and as the events in the story (I won’t give any away!) began to unfold, it was impossible to read fast enough to know what happened to them.

Wonderful historical detail:

Mary Hooper’s detailed descriptions of life for the poor in Victorian times and the dangers for young girls on the streets must have taken a lot of research. It was this that outshined her other books, and really made a dramatic atmosphere. I know a lot about the Victorian era, having been interested in it since I visited Osborne House (her holiday home) when I was very little and I thought that the story transported me back to that time really well. Some teenage girls who read this may not know much about life was like for Victorian London’s poor and the way that many people lived in constant dread of been ‘thrown out into the gutter so it would be very interesting for them. I think that some may also be a little shocked about how dangerous it was for young girls around their age and how some were driven to become ‘fallen women’ as Grace describes it.  Furthermore, at one point in the story, we meet Charles Dickens, which is in keeping with Mary Hooper's liking of using real people in her books.
As some of the book was set in a funeral parlour, there were so many fascinating and quaint little details that I learnt about such as the correct mourning etiquette and the fact that mourning wear suppliers told customers that it was unlucky to keep the clothes once the mourning period was over. This made the book uniquely different to any other novels set in Victorian London.

In addition to the wonderful description in the book, at the beginning of chapters, there is usually a small picture such a small newspaper advertisment or an invitation. Sometimes, this also tells you more about Victorian times and added to the character of the book.

Even thought this book is  mainly a historical fiction story, there are also elements of mystery and adventure too so it should appeal to a wide range of different book tastes. There were times when I felt pity, sadness, anticipation, anger, thrill, love and hope in the course of the book and I don’t think that there was anything that I would have done to change it. It was fantastic as a stand alone book that left me feeling satisfied and not wanting more from the characters as in some books although there was also an element of imagining what happened to the characters after the book ended.

Overall it was a rare gem of a book, emotional, full of suspense, thrilling and exceptionally well written.
Even if this book doesn’t sound like your usual style, I recommend that you try it as you might be pleasantly surprised. I know that several other reviewers have said that they would never have read it if they hadn’t been sent an advanced reader copy by the publishers but ended up loving it!

The Video:

This is the trailer for the book, which was filmed at Brockwood Cemetery, just outside of London. I like the effect that it creates  and enjoyed but it was different to what I imagined and I think that it portrays the book to be darker and more eerie than it really is.


  1. I love Mary Hooper books- and Fallen Grace is my favourite :)
    I loved this too!
    Great review (:

  2. Excellent review - I'm so happy I have a copy now and I can't wait to read it! :)

  3. I only just noticed this! Thanks Ria (FG is my favouirte too and BR, I'm glad that you have a copy now. I'll be looking out for a review on your blog :)

  4. I actually hadn't heard of this book before I read your review and now I want to go read it. I love that time period and especially enjoy when authors include actual historical characters into their books. Made me wonder how she made CHarles Dickens out in this novel.

  5. Excellent review! I love how you provided so much insight into the story, but didn't use any spoilers. Grace sounds like a wonderful character!

  6. I think yours is one of the first reviews I've read of Fallen Grace, and it's on my wishlist so I'm glad to hear it doesn't disappoint! Excellent that the historical detail is spot on (it can be irritating if something is so obviously wrong in a historical novel). Interesting that Dickens is introduced! Thanks for the review :)

  7. Thanks for all your comments! I'm glad that my review inspired some of you to think about reading it. You'll just have to wait and see how Dickens appears...

  8. I probably wouldn't have paid attention or known this title if not for this review but I'm glad I did read it! This story sounds great! Adding to my ever-growing list :)


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