Written by: Sharon Biggs Waller
Published by: Viking Juvenile
Release date: January 23rd 2014
Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance, Young Adult
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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?
Let me tell you a secret. (Okay, it’s not really a secret, but just play along.) I’m not a big fan of “historical fiction”. …I know, I know, I’m a terrible person! I’ve just never really loved any of the historical fiction books I’ve read, unless you count alternate history/steampunkified/supernaturalized history as “historical fiction”. I’ve just never found straight-up historical fiction to be my thing.
…Until A Mad, Wicked Folly. This book was excellent, and it’s convinced me — it would be a tragedy for me to continue to disregard the genre out of hand. Folly had so much awesomeness. The characters (excellent), the romance (delicious), the writing (so vivid)… It was completely engrossing, from start to finish.
I was pretty sure I would love Victoria Darling, because I’d heard great things about her feisty attitude and determination. But I was a little worried that, being so feisty and independent, Vicky wouldn’t be believable within the constraints of her era. Wonderfully, this is not the case at all with Vicky. I loved everything about her, and she totally fit within her society, as a woman who can clearly see the disparities between men and women at that time, and who wants to be able to pursue her dreams.
I supposed that was why I liked the pre-Raphaelites and their successors so much. They chose to paint things that human beings would never see on earth, only in imagination. Fanciful things, like this mermaid. Subjects like these made you imagine that life could be far, far different than you ever thought.
From her very first scene, her passion and dedication to her art is what drives her, and it’s that desire that fuels her determination and drive to fight for her place in the art world — and in society in general, as well. I believed in Vicky’s character immediately, and it took no convincing that this girl, constrained as she was by the social norms and strict parents, would want to fight for her freedoms and equal rights for women.
Vicky somehow finds herself involved with the women’s suffrage movement in London because of her art, and in doing so, ends up meeting and befriending a young police constable, William Fletcher. Will is… *sighs* Will is fantastic. Being on the police, he’s tasked with breaking up many of the women’s suffrage rallies, which he really doesn’t want to do. He’s stuck in a difficult position, like Vicky; and like Vicky, he finds ways to get around his peers’ expectations as well. He challenges Vicky to fight for what she wants, and I think that was my favorite thing about him; but he’s also sweet, charming, supportive, and just heart-meltingly wonderful.
I absolutely loved and believed the slow-burn romance between Vicky and Will. (And oh, is it slow.) They both know they’re not a realistic match for each other, so it takes them a very long time to act on any of their feelings — though they do spend a lot of time together, since Will lets Vicky draw him, and Vicky teams up with him to draw some illustrations for a series of stories Will is writing.
Now it was Will’s turn to look anxious. He had an expression on his face that I recognized: unsure, as though he might not describe the work well enough; worried that the person might misunderstand and he would appear foolish.
I would’ve loved for their relationship to move a bit more quickly, so we could’ve gotten even more cuteness… but within the greater context of the book, I can see exactly why this wouldn’t have worked — it wouldn’t have been truthful to either of their characters. Vicky is so focused on her art and ambition, which is wonderful. Will is supportive of her, which is awesome. But Vicky’s relationship status is “complicated” to say the least (she’s basically forced to get engaged to a complete tool so she can have money to go to art school)… So I get it. Will and Vicky are so wonderful together, though. They had so many amazing moments: On park benches, falling asleep on a train, Will’s birthday present for Vicky, the first time Vicky goes to Will’s apartment… I just want to squish their faces together!! Seriously, though, they are fantastic — both as individuals, and together. Love them.
It’s absolutely mind-blowing how much research went into this book. There’s so much information through the whole thing, about the society in 1909 London, about the suffrage movement in London at the time, and about real people and events involved with this movement.
But I loved that all the information didn’t come across as “here let me teach you something about 1909”.
Sharon Biggs Waller did a masterful job intertwining the reality of the time with the story and characters, so it never felt like a history lesson. The writing itself, while filled with information, was vivid and beautiful and wonderfully descriptive, the kind of writing that I absolutely devour once I’ve started reading. It’s totally engrossing. And it felt like it was plucked right out of the early 1900’s. It felt authentic, while still remaining wonderfully readable.
I really, really enjoyed this book. It felt light, despite dealing with serious topics of inequality and the plight of women in the early 1900’s. Vicky was a character I needed in my life — smart, driven, dedicated, and so believable in everything she did. Seriously, this book… maybe it’s because I read a lot of sci-fi and fantasy, but I’m used to having to suspend my disbelief a lot in books. I don’t think I ever had to do that with A Mad, Wicked Folly. It was just utterly wonderful. The ending was also amazing — it doesn’t end with a perfectly-tied-bow on our Happily Ever After, but it ends on an incredibly wonderful and optimistic and realistic (again with the realism!) note for Victoria. Love.
Whether or not you’re a fan of historical fiction, I’d highly recommend checking out A Mad, Wicked Folly.