Set in 1837 and 1858’s London, the novel follows the intertwined stories of a mother and daughter—one raised in poverty, one raised in prosperity. For Ruby, growing up in the tenements of Whitechapel, pride has no place among the poor, but she still has her dignity. Her beauty and unquenchable spirit catch the eye of Robert Thornton, a well-to-do businessman, who rescues her and her illegitimate child, the result of a villainous rape, and takes them to his fine town house in Reigate and marries her. But Ruby’s past pursues her, forcing her to flee her new home, leaving her young child behind.
Victoria, her daughter, also finds herself pursued by a cruel and heartless man, set up by her conniving step-mother. Rather than go through with the loathsome wedding, Vicki bolts, disguising herself as a man, and finds her way to Whitechapel, followed by Robert, now seeking his missing wife and daughter. Eventually both father and daughter find their way into the family of the Smiths, who were tied to the events of Ruby’s earlier life. The residents of London’s poorest district work hard and live in terrible conditions, but Vicki and her father, able to see beyond the social divisions, discover they have kind hearts. The subtitle of the novel is “A heartwarming story of love and endurance,” and although there is great suffering, the novel delivers on its promise that there is always something good that will spring from every bad situation, justice will be served, and truth, in the end, will finally reveal itself.
There is a sweeping, family saga quality to this Victorian novel that reminded me of THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUDE MOONEY by Viola Russell and Janet MacLeod Trotter’s A CRIMSON DAWN. There is also a wealth of research and detail the author put into recreating the Dickensian lives of the Victorian underclass, and if this appeals to you, you may also be interested in Michael Toledano’s Victorian-era mystery, TRUNCATE.