by Graham Masterton2 our of 5
They say the girls were witches, but Beatrice Scarlet, the apothecary's daughter, knows they were victims...
Beatrice Scarlet has returned to London and found work at St Mary Magdalene's Refuge for fallen women. Beatrice enjoys the work and her apothecary skills are much needed. The home cooperates with a network of wealthy factory owners across London, finding their charges steady work and hopes of rehabilitation.
But when twelve girls sent to a factory in Clerkenwell disappear, Beatrice is uneasy. Their would-be benefactor claims they were witches, sacrificed by Satan for his demonic misdeeds. But Beatrice is sure something much darker than witchcraft is at play...
Widow Scarlet has lost her husband, and her son, and now she must uproot from the New World and return to London. She finds a new purpose with a charity that supports fallen women, but soon there are rumours of witchcraft and devil worship amongst the girls.
I received a free copy from Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
I nearly DNFed this. The first 70 pages were really hard to get through, for me.
You have a widow, who has been living with her children, and no outside help since her husband's death. At some points she comes across as independent, but for the most part, she goes wherever the wind blows her.
She lives by the edge of the woods, and it opens with her son missing - presumed kidnapped by Indians. She is naturally worried and upset, for all of about 5 minutes.
She is then told that she has to vacate her dead husband's house, and will be sent to work for St Mary Magdalenes, to help ex-prostitutes forge new lives. She doesn't want to leave, when her son is still unaccounted for; but after the minimum nudge by a friend and a tarot reading, Beatrice accepts with minimum fuss.
There's also a very unnecessary scene involving a suitor in America. The whole scene is designed to prove that the suitor is unsuitable.
Then it's never mentioned again.
At this point, I will say that I didn't know this was the second in the Beatrice Scarlet series. I have since looked into this author, and there is a book that precedes this one. Perhaps those first 70 pages are supposed to answer outstanding questions; but for a new reader like me, they felt wedged in. They have the sole purpose of cutting Beatrice and her daughter from all ties, so they can be at the scene of the story, in London.
Once they arrived at St Mary's and you have a whole cast of interesting characters with interesting back-stories, I found it a lot more engaging.
The women have a range of attitudes, from grabbing this new life with both hands, to being sceptical and wanting to go back to the steady money of whoring.
The "mystery" of the missing girls and the practises of witchcraft might be glaringly obvious, but the story pulls you along quite pleasantly. There is no great surprise in the end, but I thought it rang true to the concepts of witches and the devil, during that era.
As a historical novel is does an OK job, but overall I found it hard to connect with a woman that is supposedly ahead of her time, but will abandon her son in another country, and really is unable to see the obvious in those around her. Hmm, some rich dude only picks the most beautiful ex-prostitutes to work in his "factory"? Never picks the plain girls? I wonder what could be happening...
It is well-written, so I'd recommend checking it out for yourself. This just wasn't for me, and I don't think I'll be continuing the series.