I've just read this in two days - yes, folks, I couldn't put it down!
The Gilded Lily is a Restoration period drama about two sisters who run away from rural Westmorland to London after the elder one, Ella, robs the house in which she was in service. There is also doubt cast about her part in two deaths. It's about survival in the frightening, dark, murky alleys and squalid lodgings down by the Thames, and the steps Ella and Sadie take not to be discovered for their crimes. The novel is extremely well researched, so real. The domestic detail is fascinating, and the author describes so well the bleakness of the girls' lives.
It's hard to say why you find a novel unputdownable, but I've just spent about 4 hours curled up with the second half, and there was no way I was not going to finish it today! Ms Swift is a marvellous storyteller and I look forward to reading more of her books. Highly, highly recommended to all lovers of historical fiction; I didn't know much about this particular period but it's made me want to know more. You'll probably like it even if you think historical fiction is not your thing; it's just a great story, fabulously well told - a well deserved five stars!
Deborah Swift's second novel, The Gilded Lily, tells the tale of two sisters, Ella and Sadie Appleby, who flee from Westmorland to London following the suspicious death of Ella's employer. Once there they secure employment in a wigmaker's workshop (a boom industry in the late 17th century), but before long their past catches up with them and they are forced to go on the run once again.
Thanks to a fortuitous meeting with a rich young playboy, Ella lands a role in another growing new industry - the selling of beautifying lotions and potions to idle society ladies - in a shop called The Gilded Lily. However, Sadie finds survival less easy thanks to the port-wine birthmark which covers half her face and makes her an easy target for bounty hunters and busybodies eager to claim the reward offered for the capture of "The Savage Sisters".
The sights and smells (particularly the smells!) of Restoration London are vividly described and the sisters' exploits make for a fast-paced and exciting tale, rich in atmosphere and adventure. Ella is a bold and feisty young woman, making up for what she lacks in talent and experience with a good dose of charm and naked ambition. Sadie is her polar opposite - bright but timid and sensitive. Although the main characters are fictional, the author has included enough actual events and cameos from real people of the time to give the story atmosphere and authenticity.
The storyline could lead to comparisons with Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue or Scapegallows by Carol Birch - I'd say it's a lighter read than those two, but no less enjoyable, and in terms of period detail I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoyed The Apothecary's Daughter by Charlotte Webb or The Darling Strumpet by Gillian Bagwell. I was really impressed by my first Deborah Swift novel and will be adding her to my list of `must read' historical fiction authors. I've already ordered a copy of her first book, The Lady's Slipper, and was pleased to see that it's a sort of prequel, featuring some of the main characters from TGL and a with a bit of 17th century witch-hunting thrown in - sounds just my cup of tea.
on 18 September 2012
Deborah Swift's portrayal of seventeenth-century London has an edge to it which cuts through the sumptuousness of her description making this a book I stayed up late to read on several nights. Her London is a place of opportunity and hazard. Fortunes can be made and necks can be broken on the gallows. The latter fate might be that of two sisters: Sadie and Ella. How do people react to extreme pressure? Ella develops an edge as sharp and brittle as the glassware her employer, Jay, admires so much. Ella seems to have lost her soul as she turns to paints and potions and hair dye to make herself into a seventeenth-century WAG? Her gentler, more reflective sister, Sadie, handicapped by a birthmark on her face, starts to fear this is the case. At various stages of the narrative both girls are imprisoned and this physical incarceration underlines the other ways human beings can imprison themselves.
Deborah Swift knows the seventeenth century and the snowbound London of The Gilded Lily will stay with me.
on 24 September 2012
I'm not a great fan of historical fiction, especially the romantic sort, but this is a gritty, exciting tale about the relationship between two sisters, one a naughty girl, the other an innocent with a disfigured face. Deborah Swift is particularly good at evoking the physical reality of long ago, the smells, the hunger, the violence, the fun of the frost fair on the frozen Thames, the pleasure of a new silk dress. She also knows how to keep the reader turning the pages: there are some very bad baddies who get their come-uppance,but very nearly do terrible things to our heroines. It was interesting to see the bond between sisters explored instead of the usual boy-girl romance, though there is some of that too, subtly done. I am horribly ignorant of this period of history so I found all the detail about 1661 London fascinating. I devoured the book greedily while wind and rain howled around my house. A great tale for a winter night told by a masterly storyteller.
on 10 August 2013
I love this period of English history, so when I saw this book I just couldn't wait to read it. I have to say, however, and with a great deal of regret, that I found it hard going. According to the publicity it was supposed to bring Restoration London to life, but I think the author got a bit bogged down and, for me, the world we were invited to enter was very claustrophobic and really quite dull, despite the contrived peril the sisters found themselves in. The pace was slow, and I kept finding myself wishing we could move on past the bickering of the sisters and their somewhat predictable story to something we could get excited (or even care) about. I also felt that the book would have been better set in the Victorian period-at least that is how it read to me.
on 14 October 2012
"Beauty is skin-deep. Blood runs deeper" The exquisite, beautiful cover of this novel is striking, standing out on the bookshelf from other novels as it takes you back in time even before you open its pages. I was so excited by the prospect of reading a new fictional work within a genre that I adore, by an author whose work I had not encountered before and yet now whom I hope I will discover more of.
Set in the harsh winter of 1661 this tale follows Sadie Appleby from Westmorland, who with her sister Ella is on the run from undertaking a robbery (her recently deceased employer) heading to London. However the past catches up with them as his relatives begin the chase in the cold winter, scurrying after the girls around the bustling city teeming with all kinds of people. Seduced and mesmerized by all that London has to offer, Ella is captivated by a Jay Whitgift who is not the man that he appears to be and nothing is as it seems. Soon tensions arise between the sisters as hidden secrets are revealed and an ever present threat shows itself, even more deadly than the law. Deborah Swift brings history to life in all its color and glory by sending the reader back into a time that was full of deceit, beauty and desire. Here one discovers the bond between flesh and blood and its strength as to that compared to romantic love and friendship, where the two sisters are connected; being both a burden and a powerful thing. As Ella begins to work in the shop `The Gilded Lily' selling beautifying lotions and potions, she settles down into secure employment whilst trying to put the past behind her. For Sadie life is much harder, namely due to her birthmark scar which causes unwelcome attention to a timid and sensitive young girl.
Deborah Swift's second novel (The Lady's Slipper novel one), is an accurate and authentic exposé of the seventeenth-century. It is a time when fortunes can be made and lost, of opportunity and where you find your inmost self. Atmospheric and authentic this is a gripping tale, full of exciting adventure with faced-paced action that leaves you breathless. The emotion and heartbreaking words touch your inmost soul as this captivating story takes your breath away. I lost myself within the characters lives; their trials and tribulations. I was astonished by the author's skill and accomplished writing that contains a perfect balance of historical detail (from research) and narrative, that brings a bygone era back to life as you immerse yourself within the sights and sounds of a once booming industry. The depth of feeling and expression through the main characters was touching, as I was able to relate and empathize with them as the author added realism into their tale. The use of detailed description really brought the words to life so that once I began to read I was unable to tear my eyes away from this most interesting story that felt like I was watching a classic film. I can't enthuse enough about this wonderful story that was as delicate as lace and as well-structured as works by Diana Gabaldon, Christine Blevins or Gillian Bagwell.
I would like to thank the author for holding her outstanding book as a giveaway on DizzyC'sLittleBookBlog and for Carol hosting it. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this interesting tale, hence I cannot wait to discover and read more of the author's works.
on 8 October 2012
The Gilded Lily is a loose sequel to Deborah Swift's debut novel The Lady's Slipper. Ella, one of the most vivid characters in the first book, takes centre-stage this time around alongside her sister Sadie.
Ella and Sadie flee from the North Country to London to escape a vengeful pursuer, and the author brings the seamy side of Restoration London to life as the penniless sisters try to disappear from view. Ella seems to land on her feet as the face of a scam operation, "The Gilded Lily", run by the charismatic Jay Whitgift. As Ella's fortunes rise, Sadie's decline, and the tensions between the sisters come to a head. Ella eventually realises that she is out of her depth, but is it too late?
I have read few historical novelists with Deborah Swift's ability to bring the past to life through sights, sounds, smells and telling detail. She has clearly researched the period in some depth, but never in a way which distracts the reader. Her picture of 17th century London is certainly not romanticised - at times her depiction of the grim reality of life for the urban poor reminded me of Dickens or Zola.
The Gilded Lily is a treat for all lovers of historical fiction peopled by believable characters and beautifully realised locations.
on 7 September 2012
I've been waiting for this since reading Swift's The Lady's Slipper, and it was worth the wait. From the first page to the last, The Gilded Lily, transports readers deep into the world of London during 1661. The pace quickens with each chapter as two sisters, accused of murder and theft, try to assume new identities. Swift, who understands the power of details, shows a side of London that is rarely seen in historical fiction. As the title suggests, the novel is layered with themes: greed, deception, the treatment of women, and good vs. evil. But always, this compelling and often heartbreaking story speaks to the bond shared between sisters.
I highly recommend.
on 3 December 2015
I really want to like this book, but it just didn't deliver what it promised. A pretty cover does not make for a brilliant novel.
The story follows the two Appleby sisters- Ella and Sadie - who are on the run after Ella's employer dies under mysterious circumstances. They are pursued by his brother, who is determined to catch them and bring them to justice. While in London, Ella falls in with elusive con-artist, Jay Whitgift and...Sadie kind of doesn't do anything interesting at all.
There are two major problems with this book- pacing and character. There really isn't a sense of urgency throughout the novel, or really a clue as to where all these events are headed. Yes, Titus is after the girls, but it takes him forever to actually get to London and even then, his subplot is often neglected in favour of a lot of pointless sniping between Ella and Sadie. Jay's storyline occasionally shows flashes of intrigue but it moves agonisingly slowly, even after his and Ella's individual plot threads start to intertwine. Ella's storyline is also slow and she goes from being grating to growing increasingly more insufferable and bitchy under Jay's influence. Now, the book clearly wants us to favour Sadie above everyone else because she's just pulled along in Ella's wake and is the meek, sensitive, shy sister and, for bonus angst, was abused by their father and has a birthmark on her face. But she barely ever DOES anything- we see her argue with her sister about what she thinks they should do, but only near the ending does she consider getting off her ass and actually acting on it. (Particularly during the riveting chapters she spends locked in a room.) There's a clumsy attempt at a romantic subplot between her and some guy called Dennis, but they had so little personality that it felt superfluous. But it was very difficult to really care about anybody in the book- in fact, the character I found myself rooting for most was Titus, who was acting out of love for his dead brother, arguably.
I found myself speed-reading through the last third of the book because I was so desperate to get it over and done with. The plot just grew sillier and sillier was it went on, but not in a comical way, just absurd and ill-fitting with the starting tone of the novel and the ending was by-and-large quite predictable, without anybody really growing and changing all that much from how they started. Historical fiction is often quite hit-and-miss. This, easily, was a miss.
on 30 September 2012
The Gilded Lily is a tale of two sisters, Ella and Sadie, and their struggle to survive in Restoration London.
Country-born Ella steals from her dead employer and to avoid arrest the sisters run away to London -a city so vast as to render them invisible; but this is a grave error of judgement, especially as Sadie has a distinctive port-wine birthmark on her face. With the deceased man's brother hot on their trail, to avoid detection Sadie must become dependant on Ella and hide out of sight.
After weeks of hardship, at last it appears their luck improves when Ella lands a job at The Gilded Lily, an emporium for upper class ladies run by the dapper, man-about-town, Jay Whitgift. But as Ella's fortunes rise, she resents Sadie for holding her back and goes to ever more extreme lengths to hide her sister. However, in their anxiety to avoid arrest for murder, the sisters overlook another and altogether more sinister threat from Jay Whitgift....
In The Gilded Lily, nothing is as it seems: a son deceives his father and sisters each other, whilst brotherly loves proves stronger in death than it did in life. Sadie and Ella squabble as only sisters can, and yet need each other to survive. The glitter of city life proves to be superficial and destructive, just like the cosmetics Ella sells in The Gilded Lily as Sadie's reticence to wear make-up to cover the port-wine birthmark becomes a metaphor for truth versus deception, as Ella eventually learns to her cost.
Lovers of historical fiction will adore this book and I have no hesitation in recommending it as a deliciously evocative read, bringing to life the sights, smells and sounds of Restoration London. It is a book to immerse yourself in, that you won't want to put down and be eager to pick up again - to read on and discover what has become of impetuous Ella and circumspect Sadie.
Set against the backdrop of the frost fair on the frozen Thames, I was utterly caught up by Ms Swift's superb writing and the rich story, eager to find out if the better side of human nature triumphs in the end...