First Published: 7th June 2010
Genre: Historical, YA
Recommended Reading Age: 14+
‘London, 1861. Grace Parkes, a pale but determined figure, clutches a precious bundle closely to her. Grace has a heartbreaking duty to carry out…Each day Grace must find a new way of earning enough money to pay the rent for the bleak, cold room that she and her sister live in, and to buy them enough — just — to eat. But there is a another danger threatening Grace, a danger linked to an event in her past that she is desperate to forget. Grace has caught the eye of the Unwins, an unscrupulous family whose shady business dealings are those of death and mourning. The Unwins will stop at nothing to defraud Grace of what is rightfully hers…‘
I’ve haven’t had much luck with the two Mary Hooper’s books I’d read previously before picking this one up. She writes about such fascinating periods with such interesting subjects to anchor her story that I should love them, but I always find myself slightly disconnected, usually from the main character. I’m happy to say that wasn’t the case with Fallen Grace. In fact, I really enjoyed this book and am eagerly anticipating Hooper’s next release, Velvet, because of it.
Grace is perhaps a little meeker than I generally like my heroines, but she was a like-able heroine, and had a quiet strength and resourcefulness that drew me to her. If I had one complaint it would be that I wanted to see a little more emotion from her, but her reserved nature is understandable and natural given everything she has been through. Grace has had an unbelievably difficult life, full of sorrow and hardships, but the context of this story means we only feel great empathy for her, rather than it seeming overly melodramatic. Hooper gives us a heroine who refuses to give up, battling on with a quiet determination. Readers are able to experience through Grace just how desperate life was for the Victorian poor, few possessions, little if no food, selling watercress and begging to carry purchases for the rich to get by, freezing and unhygienic living conditions, the threat of the workhouse always looming. It is because of these rich insights into how people really lived, that always seem to feature in Hooper’s stories, that I like to recommend them, even if the characters weren’t quite what I was hoping for.
I liked the way the story jumped occasionally between narratives and how it all came together. I did find the plot fairly predictable, but I found I didn’t really care very much – I was too absorbed. Firstly, due to the strength of Hooper’s writing. Reading Fallen Grace you really felt as though you were in Victorian london, the sights, the smells, the whole atmosphere, was breathtaking. Secondly, the sheer wealth of historical information – I just ate it up. I’ve always been fascinated with history, and I love how Hooper packs so much rich detail seamlessly into her stories. Her subject matter is always so intriguing – and learning the extensive customs and ins and outs of the Victorian funeral trade (whole warehouses dedicated to mourning clothes!) was no less so. I loved learning that there was a special railway line to carry the departed and grieving family to the cemeteries outside London and why such far-removed cemeteries were required. This is what makes Hooper’s books so compelling. Better yet, she also includes some notes at the back for anyone wishing to learn more. I also enjoyed the brief appearances of famous figures, such as Prince Albert and Charles Dickens, into Grace’s life.
The story wasn’t quite as imaginative as I’d hoped and the characters didn’t have quite as much depth as I tend to look for when I pick up a book, but they are just right for the intended audience of Fallen Grace. For myself, I found the story and characters engaging and I’ll admit the ending, even though I saw it coming, brought a tear to my eye. Highly recommended, and had I read this when I was younger, I don’t doubt I would have given it the highest rating.