I'm very excited today to be part of the Razorbill Canada blog tour for A Mad, Wicked Folly!
A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller.
Page Count: 448.
Published: January 23, 2014.
Published by: Viking Juvenile (Penguin).
Source: Received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. Thank you, Penguin Canada!
Welcome to the world of the fabulously wealthy in London, 1909, where dresses and houses are overwhelmingly opulent, social class means everything, and women are taught to be nothing more than wives and mothers. Into this world comes seventeen-year-old Victoria Darling, who wants only to be an artist—a nearly impossible dream for a girl.
After Vicky poses nude for her illicit art class, she is expelled from her French finishing school. Shamed and scandalized, her parents try to marry her off to the wealthy Edmund Carrick-Humphrey. But Vicky has other things on her mind: her clandestine application to the Royal College of Art; her participation in the suffragette movement; and her growing attraction to a working-class boy who may be her muse—or may be the love of her life. As the world of debutante balls, corsets, and high society obligations closes in around her, Vicky must figure out: just how much is she willing to sacrifice to pursue her dreams?
If there is one word that can describe A Mad, Wicked Folly as a reading experience for me, that word would be delightful. Sharon Biggs Waller masterfully weaves clearly well-researched historical fact into a truly enjoyable story featuring a strong heroine you can't help but root for and an adorable and charming love interest. I truly think there is something in this novel for everyone to enjoy. For me, though, that something was the entire darn story.
Vicky makes an impression right from the start of the novel by posing nude for an art class she isn't even supposed to be attending (and one in which she is the only female student). This isn't the wrong kind of impression, though, because Vicky does it for all the art. When the model doesn't show and one of the other artists calls her out on being the only student who hasn't yet posed, Vicky does it to prove that she is just as much an artist and has just as much respect for the art form as every male student in that room. This kind of behaviour proves to be common for Vicky throughout the rest of the story as she stands up against all kinds of people, including her own parents and future father-in-law, simply because she believes that she deserves the same opportunities and respect as men do. With the hindsight provided by living today, we know that she was unquestionably correct, but at the time it took some incredibly brave, headstrong, even stubborn women to do what Vicky does and those are qualities that she shows again and again. She never fails to be compelling and you have to respect a girl that fights so hard to achieve her dream.
The supporting cast in A Mad, Wicked Folly are interesting and enjoyable characters as well. Will, the charming policeman, is incredibly lovable and just becomes more and more endearing a character as the book goes on. Vicky's brother, Freddy, was a great inclusion to the story because he supports Vicky in so much but is often clearly unsure of just how to handle her, which was a great relationship to see develop. Her parents were realistic, albeit incredibly frustrating for a modern reader, but their interactions with Vicky felt truly honest for the time. It was also so nice that they weren't flat; there is more to both of them than it seems at first and they all, including Vicky, have some things to learn about one another. Her fiancé, Edmund, certainly elicited some strong emotions from me, despite not seeming to possess any of his own. Sophie, brought in as a lady's maid type who proves to be more of a friend than Vicky could ever have imagined. And the band of suffragettes Vicky gets to know are inspiring and captivating to read about, especially Lucy, the "troublemaking" front-line fighter for women's rights who slowly brings Vicky into her world. The characters are a varied bunch and kept things interesting all the way along.
Vicky's slow integration into the suffragette movement was also not only a great element to the story but also one I think played out very well. Vicky shows all the qualities of a good suffragette (well, except for being incredibly accustomed to her high standard of living, but you can't blame her for that), yet she isn't drawn to the movement as a participant right away, instead coming to them through her art. This initial exposure and the way a supporter was then made of her felt very honest to Vicky's character but was also extremely satisfying because as a reader I could see how clearly her personal goals lined up with the suffragettes'. Not to mention that some of those scenes were the most interesting to read, both from a historical and a plot perspective.
The historical detail in this novel was not only so clearly present and well-respected but also seamlessly woven into the storyline so that it never felt like reading a history lesson. Not only the history of the suffragette movement, which I was absolutely delighted to learn more about as Vicky did, but also the art history. Waller's pure passion for art shines through constantly over the course of the story and not only makes it exciting to read about the art described but also makes Vicky's own passion feel that much more real and authentic. You can absolutely tell that Waller has put her heart into every bit of this novel and that alone makes it enchanting.
All in all, this was just a wonderful read. It's not all the time that I make a blanket recommendation with a book, but I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone that didn't appreciate at least some aspects of this novel. The romance was delightful, the history is strong, and the characters ring true. Each individual element comes together to create a lovable novel that I have not been able to stop talking about since I started it. To say I absolutely adored it would be entirely accurate and I don't think I'm alone in that. This one is, without a doubt, worth the read.