My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
I have to confess I requested this book from Netgalley based on a combination of that beautiful cover and the unusual title. I love books that are unique and that little bit strange and this most definitely fits into that category telling the story of Tully Truegood skivvy, orphan, conjurers assistant and prostitute.
It’s a bit of a hodgepodge of different genres, historical, romance and fantasy with a little bit of mystery and horror thrown into the mix. It shouldn’t work but somehow it does. It’s well written with some truly memorable characters and a fascinating story.
As someone who is not a fan of period stories this tale of life in 18th century England captivated me and I couldn’t put it down.
I would like to make myself the heroine of this story and my character to be so noble that you could not help but be in love with me. Perhaps I should portray myself as an innocent victim led astray. But alas, sir, I would be lying, and as I am on the brink of seeing my maker, the truth might serve me better.
The story begins in 1756 with our heroine Tully Truegood in prison for the murder of her husband. When visited by her sister Hope she requests paper and ink so she can write the story of her life in the form of a letter to the man she loves. So begins her story, from her mother dying in childbirth, to the neglect of her father and how she became one of the most famous prostitutes in England, discovered she had a very unique power and ended up in prison for murder.
I absolutely loved the form of this story. The majority is written like a letter to a lover and as such it feels like Tully is speaking directly to the reader. The tone is at times very conversational as she tries to give her side of the story and explain her feelings and actions.
Tully makes for a very likeable narrator, honest, forthright and brave, and I think that’s what makes this such a great story. Both Tully and the other characters in the story are rendered so well that you can picture them and the development of Tully over the course of the story is wonderful to read. She grows from a naive, weak and bullied child to a confident and assertive woman in a time when women were treated like possessions. I wasn’t sure about her at the start but by the end I absolutely loved her.
The other characters are also fascinating with my favorites being Mr Crease, Mercy and Lord B each of whom brought something very different to the story (a certain section with Lord B left me in tears). What I struggled a little with however, and the reason I couldn’t give 5 stars, was the central romance. The whole book is written like a love letter as Tully longs for news of Avery but when I learned of their history together I didn’t feel it. It seemed to me to be very one sided with Tully idolizing Avery.
Weirdly the whole thing reminded me a little of Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Partly I think because of the time period but also because of the way Tully is used and abused by most of the men in her life and is let down by the one man who claims to love her. I should say there are some very violent and abusive scenes which may upset and, as a large portion of the story is set in a brothel, there are also a lot of fairly graphic sex scenes although a lot of euphemisms are used for various parts of the anatomy. (As an aside, some of these did make me laugh particularly in the early part of the book where there seems to be a number of references to vegetables).
There are some magical and supernatural elements to the story which I loved and definitely gives it something unique even though they are at times a little confusing and disturbing. I would have really liked a bit more depth to these and to Mr Crease as I just wanted to understand how Tully could do the things she could.
The story is captivating and while there are a couple of areas where I felt it needed more background or explanation I was left feeling very satisfied by the end. I do wonder if it may have been more effective if it was that little bit darker and more explicit than it was but I don’t know.
Overall a great read that I would recommend to those who like a unique story with a strong female character and who aren’t offended by.some graphic sex scenes.
Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Blurb (from GoodReads)
‘I would like to make myself the heroine of this story – an innocent victim led astray. But alas sir, I would be lying…’
London, 1756: In Newgate prison, Tully Truegood awaits trial. Her fate hanging in the balance, she tells her life-story. It’s a tale that takes her from skivvy in the back streets of London, to conjuror’s assistant, to celebrated courtesan at her stepmother’s Fairy House, the notorious house of ill-repute where decadent excess is a must…
Tully was once the talk of the town. Now, with the best seats at Newgate already sold in anticipation of her execution, her only chance of survival is to get her story to the one person who can help her avoid the gallows.
She is Tully Truegood.
Orphan, whore, magician’s apprentice.