It’s the time of year where I start to think about summer holidays and beach reads, so enter The Lace Maiden, by Evie Grace, something of a Jamaica Inn for the Kent coastline, a story of smugglers, gobblers and hovellers; dancing around the revenue men to make a living in the small seaside town of Deal.
Set in 1811, it follows the Lennicker sisters as they struggle for survival following the murder of their father, a fisherman and smuggler, by a rival gang. Following his death, they discover that instead of an estate, they’ve inherited an overwhelming amount of debt with little to no means to pay it off. And that the debt was the least of his secrets. Walking a tightrope for survival, the oldest sister Louisa finds herself entering into the smuggling game and making a deal with an unscrupulous lawyer, risking everything to keep a roof over her sisters’ heads.
I really enjoyed the historicity of Evie Grace’s The Lace Maiden. While the events of the novel were fictional, the backdrop against the Napoleonic Wars and the American war of independence gave the novel a claustrophobic feel which amplified the sense of entrapment that Louisa feels. The idea that press gangers could just come house to house, effectively abducting men to press into military service, with the full weight of the law behind them is horrific. You could imagine the terror of hearing that they were coming to your town.
Some historical novels have a tendency to romanticis the past, but I appreciated that Grace didn’t shy away from the day to day realities of life in the early nineteenth century. Bed bugs, unwashed clothes, the romantic hero having lice combed out of his hair by the heroine… I thought they were nice touches. I even learned about cheese mites. Google at your own risk.
I’d definitely recommend this as a holiday read, it’s the perfect for getting beneath the touristy veneer of many UK seaside towns and appreciating how thin the line between survival and ruin must have been for so many families.
I reviewed The Lace Maiden as part of a blog tour by Penguin Random House in exchange for a review copy for my honest opinions. Check out other reviews as part of the tour below: