"Sins of the Father" Emily Organ
Not usually a Historical Fiction Fan, I have been very much converted by Emily Organ's brilliant trilogy "Runaway Girl" of which "Sins of the Father" is the final part. Organ's ability to evoke the historical setting with so much detail and conviction makes her stories highly engaging. Her characters are so vividly brought to life they are as relatable and appealing as any contemporary protagonists. The dialogue is full of authentic dialect and vocabulary but reads with a fluency that helps keep a healthy pace in this exciting instalment which ends the overriding story arc Organ has carefully managed over the three books.
Alice de Grey is settling into married life in medieval London, but her world is shattered when her two year old niece, Mary, is kidnapped. As the city searches for the little girl, Alice realises that it was her own mistake which put Mary in danger.
Alice’s adversary, Sir Walter, is back. He has duped her and will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Even murder.
Alice is forced to fix her mistake but Mary isn’t the only one to suffer. Sir Walter is one step ahead, and time is running out for Alice and her family.
It doesn't matter if you haven't read the first two novels in this series but I would recommend that you do! Not just because it will allow you to fully appreciate the characters' positions, behaviours, actions and relationships but also because they are just great, well written historical thrillers!
As with the previous books - and all good thrillers - the story starts with a prologue. Annoymous characters rush around in the dead of night; running away and hiding, setting up a great opening premise of mystery and secrets. This one involves a young child which generates a sense of urgency.
"'There, there, don't cry Mary. We can clean [your cut] up when we get home.' She knew she wasn't telling the truth. They weren't going home."
The novel continues by reacquainting us with familiar characters and reminding us of how "Forgotten Child" ended. Information is conveyed quickly and succinctly so the reader has everything they need to know to become fully involved in the plot without becoming distracted by digressions and contrived repetitive passages.
I am always impressed with Organ's attention to detail. Not only is her historical research faultless and thorough, but her descriptions appeal to each sense, fully immersing the reader in the world of 1351 London. At the funeral in one of the early chapters, Alice is overwhelmed by "the scent of incense mingled with the smell of sweat and wet wool." Organ clearly lives and breathes her novel as her writing so effectively recreates her imagined world for the reader with such authenticity.
There's an underlying atmosphere of threat and menace as details of the infamous Sir Walter are sprinkled into the narrative alongside strange goings on in the background. Again, at the funeral Organ writes ominously:
"A crow hopped among the graves and a man stood on the far side of the churchyard wall, holding his hood low so that it half-covered his face."
Organ's trilogy has a cast of strong, female leads who are all resilient, independent, thoroughly modern and bold women. They are all dealing with their own difficult past or present issues and look to each other for support. There's an interesting dynamic between the women; I enjoyed that the story has been so female centred with such admirable role models.
I really enjoyed the thread about Sarah Dalton and her frightening descent into madness. The treatment of women's mental health in society is a fascinating one and with "The Woman in White" and "Jane Eyre" in my top ten of classic titles, it was intriguing to read about the desperate fate that befalls Sarah.
"He confirmed her ailing condition was due either to possession by the devil or the result of a curse that has been cast upon her by a witch..... What Mistress Dalton is exhibiting here is a melancholic response."
Her appalling treatment and rapid descent into a trance like stupor is moving, as is Alice's visit to see her while she is being "nursed".
"Inside it reeked of damp and excrement Cockroaches scuttled along the bottom of the slimy wall as they walked in. The candle in Sister Gabriel's hand was the only source of light.....Alice couldn't find any words; she was dumbstruck by the pitiful sight that met her. Sarah sat slumped in the corner of the room, her bedraggled hair obscuring her face and her knees tucked up under her chin."
Although what do we make of Dr de Servain and his diagnosis? Ah ha! I want to say more - and talk about the brilliant Doyle-esq characterisation but I can't without risking a spoiler or three! Such a shame, as this was a very impressive and confident section of the novel which illustrated Organ's writing at her best.
And it was great to see Millicent again! I really like this character. Her blunt, candid observations are so acute it's both impressive, moving and humorous all at once. Organ has created a great background character with care and empathy. Her response to Sarah's illness and Dr de Servain's diagnosis is more matter of fact as well as reminding us about medicine, belief and ritual at this time.
"He's a strange 'un. I don't think 'e's got much of a clue what 'e's doin'. We need ter get Sarah outta there so as I can 'elp 'er with some of me 'erbs an' charms."
This was the third instalment of "The Runaway Girl" series and Organ's fifth book in total. I have enjoyed them all and certainly was not disappointed by "Sins of the Father". I would recommend it to anyone who loves historical fiction and strong female leads but also to fans of mysteries, thrillers or anyone just a great weekend read.
My huge thanks to Emily Organ for allowing me to read an advanced copy of her novel prior to publication in return for a fair and honest review. It has been such a pleasure to chart Alice's journey and join in her adventures!
To read my reviews of Part One - "Runaway Girl", and Part Two - "Forgotten Child" click here:
To read my interview with Emily Organ, click here:
To read the opening pages of "Runaway Girl" click here:
If you would like more recommendations and reviews, please follow me on Twitter @ katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)