Thanks to the publishers, and NetGalley, for providing me with a free eARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.
I came across The Strange Adventures of H by Sarah Burton on NetGalley, and the first thing that stood out to me was the cover — it’s gorgeous! My black and white kindle really doesn’t do it justice. I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, so I looked at the description, and was intrigued. I enjoy a good historical fiction, so based on the description, I decided to give it a go. I would warn that this book deals with sexual assault, as well as prostitution, and it is very much an adult book. With the story of how I came to this book aside, let’s get right into my thoughts.
First off, the characters. I really fell for H, the narrator, and her sister, Evelyn. The other siblings in the novel were more minor characters, but H and Evelyn really shone. I also loved Aunt Madge, who the sisters go to stay with. The men of the novel were less likeable for me, though I have a soft spot for Godfrey, Joe, and Frederick. I thought the main characters were really well fleshed-out, and there was some great character development as well, particularly with the character of H. H’s — or Doll’s, as H is known for a large portion of the novel — friends were also great characters. A group of prostitutes, these girls come together as sisters to support one another, and bond over their shared experiences, with no questions asked about how one came to be in such a position. While I would have liked to hear more about the backgrounds of some of these women, I think it was right to not include it, and all I can say is I would read another story featuring almost any one of these other girls.
The writing style, as well, while quite simple, was something else I enjoyed. This was a very readable book, and I read it in three sittings, which is quite impressive for me as it’s not what I would call short. The simple style also seemed to make sense for the character of H, who came across as very pragmatic, and not prone to using flowery language. I also appreciated that the language used was very tailored to the setting, yet explanations were offered for slang words, or they were carefully used in a place that made their meaning clear. Having studied the Restoration period a little at University, I was already familiar with the great historical events the novel addresses, and I had to smile to see Nell Gwyn featured. Nell was a famous mistress of King Charles II, and I recommend you look her up if you’re interested in the period. Of course, the 1660s also features the plague, and the Great Fire of London, both of which occur during the course of the novel. It was interesting for me to read about these events from the perspective of someone living through them (although, of course, I know it’s only fiction) because I’ve only ever studied these events, which can sometimes lack that human perspective.
The description of the plague, in particular, was something that was scarily relevant to our current situation. While we’re hardly having to throw bodies into the street, some elements of the plague are still present: people locking themselves in their homes, being scared to go outside, and, very sadly, in some countries, there have also been mass graves, though perhaps not quite in the way depicted in The Strange Adventures of H.
I did have a couple of issues with this book, however. One is the pacing. I felt like the pacing started out really good, detailing H’s childhood, with the ominous presence of the future looming. However, around two thirds of the way through, it started to feel really rushed. This was the point where the opening scene was revisited. The return to this scene didn’t seem to be as important as I had assumed it would be, as I assumed it would be the climax, but no, the pacing dropped right back down again, and the book continued, only to speed up and rush to the ending. This stop and start kind of pacing made me feel as though this should perhaps have been split into separate books, rather than having what seemed to be more than one climax.
This brings us to my other issue with the book: the ending. I don’t think the choices made at the end made much sense, and there seemed to be far too many coincidences happening throughout the book. Everywhere H goes, she seems to bump into someone from her past, and while the book does actually acknowledge at one point the improbability of this, it still seemed a little too much to be believed. These chance encounters bring H to the ending of the book, which, as I said, I don’t buy into. Her actions seemed very out of character, and the emotions that were supposed to be present hadn’t been built up to, which made the ending seem hollow.
Overall, I would give The Strange Adventures of H 3.5 stars. I’d really recommend this book to fans of historical fiction, but as I said earlier, it’s certainly not a book for younger readers.
The Strange Adventures of H by Sarah Burton is published on May 1st by Legend Press.
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This review also posted on my GoodReads, and NetGalley.