The Gilded Lily: A Novel Paperback – Nov 27 2012
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“Deborah Swift's THE GILDED LILY is a heart-rending story of two sisters on the run, searching for a better life. Beautifully written and meticulously researched, the novel drew me straight into the teeming streets of Restoration London. An addictive, page-turning read.” ―Mary Sharratt, author of The Vanishing Point and The Daughters of Witching Hill
“THE GILDED LILY is a beautifully-written blend of fast pace and atmospheric historical detail. The plot fairly romps along, but the intense evocation of the period never falters.” ―Gabrielle Kimm, author of His Last Duchess and The Courtesan's Lover
“The author's previous career as a set and costume designer is evident from the richly detailed descriptions, while the superbly written dialogue makes the characters absolutely real. Deborah Swift's assured and carefully researched writing makes THE GILDED LILY an unputdownable read and I eagerly anticipate her next novel.” ―Charlotte Betts, award-winning author of The Apothecary's Daughter
“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.” ―Ann Weisgarber, author of The Personal History of Rachel Du Pree and winner of the Langum Prize for historical fiction
“Deborah Swift's writing style, combined with her knowledge of mid 17th Century life is masterful in her portrayal of a crueler and less tolerant time, where suspicion is enough to condemn the innocent and women were regarded as the cradle of all evils.” ―Historical Novel Review on The Lady's Slipper
“The Lady's Slipper has all the characteristics of well-received historical romance. Recommended for fans of Philippa Gregory and Rose Tremain, as well as students of the English Civil War.” ―Library Journal on The Lady's Slipper
About the Author
DEBORAH SWIFT, a set and costume designer for the BBC, lives in Windermere, England. The Lady's Slipper, shortlisted for The Impress Novelists Prize in 2007, was inspired by her own discovery of the rare orchid during a summer walk.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The story surrounds two sisters, Ella and Sadie Appleby. They have not exactly had any type of life worth talking about and are used to being abused and mistreated. The sisters are escaping from their lives of servitude when we first meet them, and are running to London in hopes of a better life. Both of these girls are as different as night and day. Ella is described as being very beautiful, and Sadie is described as having a rather large birthmark on her face, which she feels slightly insecure about. Ella is definitely the ringleader and influences Sadie to do a lot of things that she probably wouldn't have otherwise. I have to say that I really did not like Ella. She was harsh and even selfish at times. She used her beauty to her advantage and I often wondered if she even cared about her sister. The way she acts and speaks to Sadie at times made me think otherwise.
Ella and Sadie are running from something and I don't want to lay it all out for you here because it could get a little lengthy. I will tell you that the peril and the danger that both of the sisters face is enough to keep you on the edge of your seat. They are constantly hiding and running, for fear of their lives. I loved reading these scenes because I felt like I was in the theater and seeing it all play out in front of me. I felt cozy while reading the scenes that took place in the ratty little place that the sisters rented on Blackraven Alley, with the fire crackling and the laughter they would sometimes share. Alas, good time cannot always take place, and the sisters face things far greater than you and I could ever imagine.
This is a long read and was rather slow in places, but exceedingly fast-paced in others. I enjoyed reading about the 1660's and running a crazy race with Ella and Sadie. This book took me a little longer to read than most do, of course. I found myself really reading slower so as to not miss details of the time and the various places that Ella and Sadie told about! If you have a few days to dedicate to a lengthy, but wonderful, historical novel, then I would highly recommend this one!
***Thank you to the publishers at St. Martin's Griffin for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review***
You will be hooked by this masterfully told story by the middle of chapter one. Sisters Ella and Sadie Appleby flee their home in Westmoreland by night after the suspicious death of Ella's employer. Danger lurks around every corner and the reader is caught up in an engrossing adventure. Can Ella and Sadie stay two steps ahead of the constable? Will they survive this mess they have made for themselves? We read of their blundering persistence amid the squalor of life with the unfortunates on the streets of London. They work for a malicious wig-maker, until Ella lands a job at a ladies emporium participating in a scam to determine what wealthy homes are left empty and open for stealing.
After receiving copious praise for her first novel, The Lady's Slipper, Ms. Swift continues to garner praise for her knowledge of the seventeenth century and her ability to weave complex characters and spot-on historical detail. Restoration London is exquisitely evoked with period detail and dialogue.
Swift imbues her characters with palpable motives and impressive survival skills. The tension set up between Ella and Sadie keeps the reader guessing about their relationship and hazardous exploits. Ella is bold, conniving, and nasty to Sadie. She knows how to keep a secret, and how to use her bosom and dimples to her advantage. She is very smart, but her appreciation for the finer things in life is her downfall. Sweet-natured Sadie is the more layered character. She is hopeful despite being scorned for having "the Devil's paw print" (a birthmark) on her face. A master seamstress with a big heart, she forgives her sister over and over for harsh treatment. The character of Dennis is a special treat--a must-have-friend for any down and out girl. The author paints the poor sections of Restoration London accurately--squalid and hazardous.
The story is not sunshine and flowers. It is real. The dark nature of the book is balanced by a surprising redemption at the end.
Reviewed by Holly Weiss, author of Crestmont.
I normally love historical fiction, and this book has SO many great, high reviews. So I thought, wonderful! Of course I'll love it. But I didn't love it. I understand that the central fact of the story (i.e. Sadie's birthmark on her face made her and her sister unable to disappear into London, thereby adding suspense since the law could continue to search for them) was necessary to give movement to the book, it did rather make the character of Sadie rather pitiful (not her birthmark, but the fact that she had to hide all of the time, and therefore had no real growth to her character). I found Ella quite simply... mean, lacking compassion for others and a narcissist. And Ella's employer, Jay Whitgift, a central player throughout most of the book, is disgusting with no redeeming qualities. There are a couple of "nice" characters (a couple of friends of Sadie), but they play relatively small roles, and they don't balance out all of the negative qualities of the rest of the characters in the book.
I didn't really enjoy the overall story of the book, and didn't find a lot of historical, period information (i.e. politics of the time, health of the time). I know there was general background information (i.e. clothing, housing, economics of the classes, cosmetics, employment), and I DID appreciate this aspect of the book... I like to have all of this as well as historical context (i.e. historical political players, events, etc.). So, I thought the book was okay. But I've read other historical fiction that I really loved. The quality of the writing was good, but I would have liked to have at least like either 1) the story 2) the main characters or 3) more historical facts.
As her former employer's brother gets closer to tracking the girls down, offering a hefty reward to anyone who can lead him to the "Savage Sisters", Ella believes Sadie is keeping her from fully realizing her wish for a new life and begins making dubious decisions to further separate them. However, when the gilding of this much sought after new life begins to chip away, Ella realizes that she has lead them both into a web that they might not be able to survive.
Described as a companion volume to Deborah Swift's The Lady's Slipper, The Gilded Lily works perfectly as a stand-alone novel. The descriptions and dialogue immerse the reader in Restoration era London and it really is a shock to look up and realize that you aren't actually slinking down the cramped back alleys with the Appleby sisters. Everything around the girls is harsh - from the weather to the people to their circumstances - and the reader is hard pressed not to wish right alongside them for a chance at a happy life.
The sisters could not be more different - Ella is beautiful, hot tempered and selfish for the majority of the time while Sadie is shy, sweet and innocently oblivious to a lot of what happens around her - and while I can't say I was a fan of Ella's decisions they are both very real representations of poor women trying to survive on their own in this time and place. Every single character highlights a different form of desperation and serves to show that money, status and belongings do not guarantee happiness. Far from a feel good story it is very real and raw and does hint at some good things to come in the future for certain characters.
Loving the dark corners and shiny optimism of the possibility of a better life when it couldn't get much worse, The Gilded Lily is a great example of realistic historical fiction. I am excited to read The Lady's Slipper and see how it ties in to the atmosphere and world this book makes me want to linger in a little longer.
Swift structures her novel around the fraught relationship of two dissimilar sisters in hiding, the vain, grasping Ella seeking a wealthy man to escape her mean origins, Sadie leaving her job as a wigmaker when they realize Ibbetson is near. While Ella finds a position with a shady boss operating within his father's establishment, she imagines he might fall in love with her, though clearly he has other plans in mind for the quick beauty. Meanwhile, Sadie is forced to cower indoors, cut off from human contact, venturing out only in the dark of night. As the net draws tighter and Ibbetson persists in his search, Ella's situation grows both promising and dangerous in equal measure, the girl realizing her lapse in judgment only when both she and Sadie are in mortal danger.
While historically accurate and filled with both honorable men and villains, some editing might have made this novel more compelling, given the real dangers of living in the London slums, abject poverty a major factor in the sisters' ability to hide from the law and avoid those who would do them harm. Swift captures the ugliness of such an existence and the fear that drives Ella and Sadie to the most extreme circumstances, victims as much of poverty as birth. While the wealthy class enjoys great freedom, the protagonists can only be victims or opportunists, their chances in life few without male protection in a world not made for the innocent. Luan Gaines/2012.