For fans of: Jasper Fforde
Fun, riveting and flirting with history, this fantastical take on the events behind the early 1900s Suffragette movement had me engrossed from the get-go. Lucy Ribchester’s
(can we take a moment to appreciate how cool that name is?) debut novel follows aspiring tomboy journalist Frankie George through 1912 London as she attempts to unearth the suspicious circumstances behind the disappearance of spectacle-loving suffragette/trapeze artist Ebony Diamond (and prove herself in the process). As she delves deeper into London she discovers an even darker secret lurking in the depths of the city’s corset business.
The action in The Hourglass Factory sucks you in from the start – Lucy Ribchester leaves you reeling with no chance to catch your breath, mimicking the fast-paced streets of London. It’s novel (to me at least) in that its principal protagonist is a woman who follows the suffragette movement without actively supporting it. Ribchester shines a light on a previously sidelined set of women who see the movement as a hindrance or feel disassociated from it.
In hindsight, there’s also a very clear cut distinction between the central characters. Female characters Frankie, Millie and Twinkle are all strong in their own very distinctive ways; Frankie is trying to forge a career for herself in an industry dominated by men, showgirl Millie turns her back on a life of ease and quietly forbears the consequences of her actions after a marriage gone wrong, and Twinkle is a formidable force to be reckoned with who forces men (and anyone else around her) to stand to attention.
Contrast this with the main male characters at our disposal – the central one being the ever reluctant Inspector Primrose who meagerly succumbs to the will of his superiors (often at the expense of his quietly forbearing wife) and even questions his authority over his own constables. Towards the end of the book it’s Frankie who has everything worked out and has to persuade Primrose to follow through and trust her to do ultimately do the right thing. And there’s Liam – Frankie and Millie’s reluctant companion who is always hovering on the sidelines until the end…
I was gripped from start to finish with The Hourglass Factory thanks to the lively characters, vibrant setting and slightly ridiculous plot. However, I did at times feel like the plot was being a little bit shoehorned in to fit around the suffragette timeline although I also think the novel would be lost without its roots in real historical events (you merely need to flick to the end of the book to see just how extensive Ribchester’s research was).
I can’t say enough how much of a fun read this was. In particular The Hourglass Factory reminds me of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series and Frankie is a dead ringer for the literary detective. I’m so glad that this is Lucy Ribchester’s debut novel because it speaks tons of promise and I can’t wait to see what we can expect next from her!
Disclaimer: This book was sent to me to review by Simon and Schuster. All opinions expressed here are my own.