Marina Fiorato is fast becoming one of my favourite authors. Her previous novel, Kit, is among my all time top reads, and so it was with high expectations and much excitement that I picked up Crimson and Bone. I wasn't disappointed.
London, 1853. Annie Stride has nothing left to live for. She is a penniless prostitute, newly evicted from her home and pregnant. On the night she plans to cast herself from Waterloo Bridge into the icy waters of the Thames, her life is saved by Francis Maybrick Gill, a talented Pre-Raphaelite Painter - and her world is changed forever.
Francis takes Annie as his artist's muse, elevating her from fallen woman to society's darling. With her otherworldly beauty now the toast of London, her dark past is left far behind.
But Annie's lavish new life is not all it seems - and there are some who won't let her forget where she came from...
I've always loved the Pre-Raphaelite era (a love cultivated by Aiden Turner's turn as Dante Gabriel Rosetti in BBC's Desperate Romantics series - if you haven't seen it check it out), and Marina captures the essence of the time effortlessly.
Weeks after her only friend Mary Jane met a watery end Annie Stride is standing on Waterloo Bridge preparing to jump. Passing by is promising artist Francis Maybrick Gill, who steps in and saves her life. He makes Annie an offer she can't refuse, and she can't believe her luck. What starts out initially as a kind of Pygmalion retelling slowly descends into something more dark and sinister. There's a sense of tension and unease underpinning the entire novel, that slowly builds as it goes on. I had my suspicions about what had happened to Annie's friend but the details are kept vague until the dramatic final chapters when the truth is revealed in all its macabre glory.
The final third of the novel I read in one sitting - I'd only intended reading for five minutes before bed and before I knew it two hours had passed. By the end I felt like I had taken a journey with Annie, from the lowest echelons of society to its dizzying heights. Wherever life took her her past was never far away, and I genuinely didn't know how things would turn out for her.
The visual imagery in this novel is striking - the red and the white, the crimson and the bone. Annie's golden hair, Francis' grey eyes. It is a world of colour, as vivid as a Pre-Raphaelite painting. The settings too are wonderfully depicted. From the dark underbelly of Victorian London to the beauty of Venice Marina created a world that I looked forward to immersing myself in as often as I could. She says in her acknowledgements that she hopes there is beauty to be found amidst the darkness, and there is. It is the combination and contrast of the two that creates such an richly compelling atmosphere that draws you in and keeps you reading.
Dark, enthralling, and opulent Crimson and Bone is a novel of love, life and obsession.
***Thanks to Bookbridgr for providing a copy of this book in exchange for a review!***