Confession: I had every intention of writing this review in one sitting.
I finished Lucy Ribchester’s daring debut novel The Hourglass Factory with a happy sigh, then ordered a chai latte and set up my laptop to share how much I loved this novel with you all. And then I found that the author had published a second novel, The Amber Shadows. I gave it a noble effort and made it halfway through my review before giving in, packing up and rushing off to find said second novel before the shops closed.
That should give you an inkling of how very impressed I am by this author.
Ribchester masterfully recreates the sights, smells, and sounds of London during the turbulent Edwardian era. London is my adopted home and one of my favorite backdrops, so I was utterly delighted to read about her characters racing through the streets I walk down every day – most of which haven’t changed so much in the past 100 years. My friends and I perform and teach a variety of circus skills, so reading about the “circus freaks” in Soho, our Friday night haunt, filled me with a wonderful sense of familiarity and intimacy with the characters. And Frankie George, the plucky and determined leading lady of this novel, is a woman fighting for her place as a journalist in an era where women were restricted to the ladies’ columns, if they were allowed to write at all. How could I not feel a kinship with her?
Although Frankie isn’t a suffragette, she’s pulled into the cause when her help is enlisted by Ebony Diamond, an acrobat who is convinced she’s become a murder target. What starts out as a chance for Frankie to write a real, hard-hitting exposé turns out to be a race against time to save the entire suffragette movement.
So why was this debut novel so daring? Well, beyond the flying trapeze artists, the corset fetishists, and the trouser-wearing protagonist (The Hourglass Factory is set in 1912 – homegirl was a trendsetter), Ribchester’s sassy and detailed writing style is wonderfully dimensional. Ribchester gives depth to a history we think we know, involving everyone from the upper classes to those living in the gutters, and the plot unfolds with as many twists and turns as the snake-keeping belly dancer in the Soho cabaret.
The Hourglass Factory is also incredibly well researched. I love history, and this particular period has always fascinated me. In her acknowledgements, Ribchester lists a long and detailed compilation of the sources that most informed her work (and so my reading list lengthens). Oh, and her website lists her Pinterest board that she used for inspiration. She’s incredibly visual which is so deeply exciting about her writing. Can you see why she’s a writer to watch?
I can honestly say I was wonderfully surprised by this page-turner. Ribchester teased me with a historical movement that I’ve always admired and thought I knew, then threw in the struggles of those marginalized by society and wrapped me in an intricate web of plotlines. I came out with even more respect for the women (and men) who found their courage in that era so that I could have the privileges I do today.
If you don’t like history, consider this your spoonful of sugar. If you do, curl up and enjoy. It’ll take your breath away.