My rating: 4 of 5 stars
so, this one is for the audiobook.
a pretty rollicking tale–not always rollicking in a happy way, but it sure moves right along.
so, we have two protagonists here: Ikey Solomon, the Prince of Fences, and Mary Abacus, a woman who just wants a job as a clerk. the former is based on a real person; the latter is entirely a work of fiction. the story is set in 19th century London and in Tasmania.
if you ever wanted to be glad you don’t live in 19th century anywhere, this is the book for you. everything from the rats to the penal colony overlords (who may in fact be related, with the rats on the good side of the family) is just… urk.
for me the major fun of this book is watching a character take over a book. i suspect that when the author started writing, it was all Ikey, all the time, and Ikey is in fact a great character. but Mary just ran away with the book, whether Ikey or the author liked it or not. authors are always woo-ing on about how characters direct their own part of the story, or just run away with all the attention, and it’s hard to believe for a rationalist, but you can definitely see the phenomenon at work here.
Mary is quite possibly the most beaten-down character since DS9 wrote the last torture-the-Chief episode. she is assaulted at one point or another in just about every possible way, but she never, ever gives up. you gotta wonder why the woman doesn’t just spontaneously combust at sexist pig #943 in the book, but she gets cooler and more tempered as the meanness goes on, and she gets some revenge, too.
and some love, which is really, really nice.
i’ve read that a lot of people complained about the historical inaccuracies in the book, but, you know, fuck ’em. if i wanted to be bored to death by a history book, i’d read one. books like this do a huge service to history, not a disservice: they put us in the times in an almost virtual-reality way; we feel what it was like to live then. i would not be in the least surprised if a bit of historical fiction this good inspired a lot of people to dig deeper into the historical record.
and ain’t that far better than yet another dustbin-destined book of hard fact?