My Review of "Runaway Girl" by Emily Organ
I came across Emily's writing through a mutual friend on Facebook who shared her status announcing she'd written a book. A few clicks on Amazon later and I had downloaded "The Last Day" to my kindle for 99p - it's a ridiculously cheap way to discover new authors - and this was possibly the best 99p I'd spent in a long time. I thoroughly enjoyed the novel, powered through it in a few sittings and would highly recommend you add it to your to read pile! (See review at end of this blog).
Since then, Emily has also written "The Outsider" which I have mentioned in blogs and tweets before. "The Outsider " is loosely inspired by the great du Maurier classic "Rebecca". It is a very successful reimagining and modernisation of the dramatic tale and absolutely worth a read!
So I was then extremely excited to be offered the chance to read an advanced copy of her third novel in return for a fair and honest review - although I knew this wouldn't be much of a challenge as I already felt pretty certain I was going to love it!
"Runaway Girl" is set in London, 1352. Following family tragedy, Alice has built a quiet, modest life in a monastery working with the foundling children. Then one of girls there, 14 yr old Constance, disappears suddenly in the night, leaving a murdered body behind her. The Prior insists she has fled with a young man but to Alice there seem too many inconsistencies and she is convinced something more sinister has befallen Constance. At the same time, a dead girl is pulled from the Thames and another is on the run. Are the girls linked? As Alice tries to uncover the truth she puts herself further and further in danger as someone is working desperately hard to make sure she doesn't succeed.
This is quite a departure from her previous novels and I was intrigued with the choice of historical setting but before I had time to really consider it further, I found I was thrown straight into the action in the very opening lines of the prologue. An unknown girl is witness to a murder and trying to escape. The murky world of London and the Thames are brilliantly evoked through smell, touch, sound, taste and sight. Details, such as their clothing, immediately transports the reader to 1352 and everything feels very real and alive.
There is a cliff hanger at the end of each chapter so you can't help but keep turning the pages to try and solve the mystery. The chapters alternate between the three different plot threads creating more tension and adding complexity to the story as they weave in and out of each other, building towards an exciting ending.
The characters are all highly convincing and believable. Emily has a real gift for capturing dialogue and her conversations really add colour to the characters and feel authentic. Alice, the protagonist, is strong, bold, independent and outspoken. She is a widow so has a little more freedom although she is later robbed of her home and financial independence as this is too much of a threat to those in authority. It's really interesting to have such a strong female lead in a time when women had so few rights and were deemed so lowly. Alice is a dynamic presence and adds real vitality to the plot. She fights against convention and all the obstacles she meets. Her voice is so often dismissed as that of an "hysterical woman" it is even harder for her to make people believe in the crimes she knows to have taken place. I loved the detail about the way she plaited her hair, or tied an embroidered belt; it captured the historical era with subtly and conviction. The author has clearly spent a great deal of time researching this novel to ensure it reads so easily and well.
My favourite character was actually one of the relatively small cast members, Millicent, a wise old midwife who nurses with ancient charms and herbs. The imagery which described her home and her livelihood was very effective. Her use of "the old language" gave a fascinating insight about people at this time. She is full of wise words: "Evil will always be among us and take the place of some people's hearts whether they're bandits on the road or the King's own knights."
I don't want to give too much away but Sir Walter is a deeply unpleasant creation who will make your skin crawl! Each character is well crafted. Each voice distinct.
In many ways this novel fits the modern genre of "grip lit" and the "psychological thriller" just set hundreds of years ago. It has secrets, murder, abduction and corruption. It has a strong female protagonist who won't be quietened and shows determination and resilience as she overcomes social barriers. There are duplicitous men, romantic interests and a sense of never quite knowing who to trust.
The last section of the novel is full of pace and dramatic tension. The way the novel finishes by coming back on itself to one of the scenes from the beginning gives a beautifully satisfying and circular ending to the narrative.
Emily's writing is well crafted and beautifully executed. She pays immense attention to detail in order to capture scenes and characters with vitality and strength. I am impressed with how she can produce such different types of stories in each of her novels so effectively. It may be set in the 1350's but is extremely readable and fluent. If you don't usually read historical dramas, I would suggest you make an exception here. I would highly recommend this novel!
"Runaway Girl" is published on March 15th.
If you can't wait until then, try Emily's first novel "The Last Day". This is an entertaining and clever read with a very charming and endearing male protagonist, George. When George was 11 years old he predicted the day he would die. Now, aged 53, that day has arrived....... I rated it 5/5 stars.
Thank you Emily for inviting me to be part of your advanced reading group!
You can follow Emily on Twitter @EmilySOrgan or Facebook at Emily Organ Writer. She also has a blog and website.
For more recommendation, reviews and bookish chat from me, follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacUK) or sign up for email notifications from this blog on the right hand side.