Friday, October 7, 2016

The Pearl and the Carnelian by Annabel Fielding

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: October 3, 2016

Britain, 1934. Hester Blake, an ambitious girl from an industrial Northern town, finds a job as a lady's maid in a small aristocratic household. Despite their impressive title and glorious past, the Fitzmartins are crumbling under the tribulations of the new century. In the cold isolation of these new surroundings, Hester ends up hopelessly besotted with her young mistress, Lady Lucy. Fragile and enthralling, Lucy can weave fascinating stories like a spider weaves her web. Armed with shrewd wits and an iron will to match, she is determined to carve out a new life for herself. They are drawn to each other as kindred spirits, eager to take advantage of the new opportunities the world has to offer. Moreover, soon Hester gets to accompany Lady Lucy on her London Season, and readily plunges herself into the heady mix of passion, art and excitement of the glittering city. However, there are plenty of dark undercurrents swirling beneath the majestic imperial capital. The country is rife with discontent, and radical political movements are growing in influence day by day. There is a controversy, surrounding the new dictatorships of Europe, and struggles are breaking out in the press as well as in the streets. The hushed whispers of yet another war are still rare, but the battle for hearts and minds has already started, and Lucy's talent can be employed for very sinister ends. Meanwhile, Hester seems to be harboring some secrets of her own... 

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Annabel Fielding’s The Pearl and the Carnelian took hold of my imagination the moment I stumbled over it. I was captivated by the originality of the plot description and jumped for joy when I landed an ARC of the narrative for review through Netgalley. Unfortunately, that enthusiasm was short lived and I can’t bring myself to give the novel more than two stars.

The politics of the story are fascinating and I genuinely appreciate Fielding’s eye for subject matter, but I found the tone of the telling monotonous and simply couldn’t get into the story. The sluggish pacing didn’t help and I spent the bulk of the narrative wondering when something was going to happen. I kept telling myself the story would take off in the next chapter, but that moment next came and I finished the last page feeling deflated and disappointed with the experience.

The characters were not bad, but they didn’t stand out in my mind. They lacked spirit and seemed to go through the motions. They hit all their marks, but there was no life or intrigue in their make-up and I found it different to engage in their individual story lines. I wanted to like them, but they lacked that spark that makes a character jump from the page.

Fielding has an obvious passion for the period and made great use of the detail, but the execution left something to be desired. I found the information dumps difficult to navigate and was confused when scenes shifted to feature various members of the supporting cast. Despite its potential, the story didn't leave an impression on me and I can’t see myself recommending the book to other readers down the road.

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 East End crawled under her skin, mixing with her blood. It was a fitting place for her, as she recognized now - sometimes with humour, sometimes with bitterness. The age-old place for the alien, the disreputable, the unwanted.
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