Author: Marina Fiorato
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
Expected Publication: 18th May 2017
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Publisher via Bookbridgr
Date read: 11th May 2017
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Annie Stride is a beautiful, flame-haired young woman from the East End of London. She is also a whore. On a bleak January night Annie stands on Waterloo Bridge, watching the icy waters of the Thames writhe beneath her as she contemplates throwing herself in. At the last minute she’s rescued by a handsome young man.
Her saviour, Francis Maybrick Gill, is a talented artist. He takes Annie as his muse, painting her again and again and transforming her from a fallen woman into society’s darling, taking her far away from her old life.
But there is darkness underpinning Annie’s lavish new lifestyle. In London and in Florence, prostitutes are being murdered. There’s someone out there who knows who Annie really is – and they won’t let her forget where she came from…
‘Crimson and Bone’ can be summed up in several words it was Gothic,Dark, atmospheric and artistic.
I have never read a novel by Marina Fiorato so I wasn’t sure of what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised. What drew me to this particular book was the setting and the concept, I love historical fiction especially the Victorian era.
This book was rich with atmosphere and descriptive writing that felt that you were alongside Annie through her journey. The characters were amazing, Annie is feisty but this comes with working the streets and survival. When she is given this incredible chance to change her life she grasps it with both hands and will do everything to make sure she doesn’t return to the streets. Francis her saviour seems to be the perfect gentleman, hiring her to become a model for his latest pieces is all that is required, but some things just don’t add up.
This book will have you on the edge of your seat, there is an underlying darkness to the plot that you will be aware of but just can’t put your finger on and will leave you guessing all the way through.
‘Crimson and Bone’ is a fantastic Historical Fiction novel set in Victorian London and Venice, which is full of art,deceit and hope.
If you are interested in ‘Crimson&Bone’ I have included an excerpt for your perusal.
• 3 •
They called it the Bridge of Sighs, because it barely passed a night without a suicide. That night was no different.
In the very centre of Waterloo Bridge, nine grim arches of new-cut granite arching over the freezing Thames, a figure climbed up onto the parapet. A young woman, and a slim one. The greedy wind snatched away her bonnet, and her red-gold hair streamed out behind her like a ragged pennant. She lifted her arms at her sides, like Christ on the cross. A passer-by, looking through the swirling mists at the figure with her raised arms and her halo of golden hair, might have thought her an angel. But she was no angel. She was a prostitute. Her name was Annie Stride.
Annie Stride looked her last on London with no regret. Her final breaths smoked before her face, the vapours swallowed by the swirling fog. Through the shifting ether she could see the water below – grey as steel and cold as charity, the reflected moon already drowned there. The jumpers did not last long, not in January. It was the cold that killed you, they said, never mind the water. Well, she was already cold. The one person in the world she’d given a damn about, the one companion who had spared her a kind word, shared a bowl of gruel, lent a bonnet, had stepped off this bridge three months past. And that, Annie reckoned, must’ve been about the time she got with child.
She’d thought at first that she’d missed her bleeding because of what had happened to Mary Jane – the shock and the policemen
• 4 •
and the coroner and the pauper’s burial. But then she’d started puking and thickening, and she knew.
She pressed her icy fingers to her stomach. You couldn’t see the belly yet. She could still tie her stays. She could still make her money, when she wasn’t too sick. But that wouldn’t last. And then what? Sit under the arches of the Adelphi with all the women she’d seen there, ragbags with babies under their skirts, begging for coins instead of making money on their backs?
It had been a bad Advent and a worse Yule without Mary Jane. Shivering in their cold little loft above the Haymarket, Annie had been too sick with the baby to capitalise on the open-handed merrymakers – she could not buy a lump of white bread nor black coal. With the first of the month had gone the last of her money, counted into the landlord’s greedy glove, and in exchange for the short rent he had given her notice to quit. She had told him she had nowhere to go, but that had not been true. She did have somewhere to go. She could follow Mary Jane into the Thames.
There was not, now, a soul to miss her, and she in turn would not miss this grim city. She would not miss the spiky form of the new Parliament, crouching like a dragon, where Big Ben had, just last night, rung the new year’s peal; nor would she miss the Inns of Court or the Bank or the ’Change. These fine establishments meant nothing to her save as hostelries for her many clients, places for them all to go during the day when she left their beds. Even the lamplighter lighting the lamps along the river could not bribe her to stay with his string of pearls. Annie Stride closed her eyes and let herself fall forward into space.
For an infinite moment she tipped and fell – then a hand took her arm, hard, and pulled her back. Her battered boots slipped on the parapet and she would have fallen anyway had she not been lifted bodily down and set to her feet. A face below a smart topper looked earnestly into hers. She could see nothing but blobs for eyes, a smear for a mouth.
• 5 •
‘Madam,’ said the mouth. ‘What are you about? Such a desperate action!’
She didn’t think she had ever been called madam in the whole course of her life. She had sat dry-eyed these last three months from all the hardships, but now a simple word was enough to fill her eyes with tears.
He let her go at once, all manners, as if propriety did not allow him to touch her. But Annie was used to men’s hands upon her, soft at first, rougher, hurting. And without the steadying hands, her knees somehow gave way beneath her and she fell against the cold stone of the balustrade.
‘You are not well,’ said the fellow. ‘Hie! Cabman!’ He hailed a passing hansom with his cane, and wrenched the door of the carriage wide. ‘Please, madam. Take your ease inside for a moment. The night is cruel and you are half frozen.’
Numbly, Annie allowed herself to be handed in, and collapsed gratefully on the buckram seat. The gentleman took off his hat – for it was such a grand one he could hardly get in wearing it – and settled opposite her.
The cabbie leaned down from his box, his breath smoking. ‘Where to, sir?’
‘Hold your horse for a moment, would you?’ said his passenger.
The cabbie settled into his greatcoat and tucked his hands into his armpits. The horse stamped and snorted where it stood. The traffic went around it and the cold Thames flowed silently below, and Annie studied the man who had saved her from a watery grave.
He looked much younger without the top hat – and lacking it she could see how handsome he was. He had thick brown hair with a curl in it, tamed with some pomade for an evening out, clear grey eyes, a fine aquiline nose and a curiously feminine mouth set above a strong jaw. His clothes were formal – tails and an opera cape. He looked as if he were on his way to a play or
• 6 •
some such. Sometimes Mary Jane and Annie had played a little game between themselves to see if they could guess the profession of the men who came down to the Haymarket to stand them a drink in the public before other niceties took place. They became experts at this game, quickly spotting a banker or a man-at-law or a minor nobleman who had come to mix with the drovers and coopers to pick up a bit of tail. You could tell the toffs because they couldn’t stop themselves speaking gentlemanly even to a common whore, so bred into the bone were their manners. They didn’t forget them until the bedchamber, when they left them at the door.
This fellow opposite her in the hansom was one of this sort, a toff. You could see it in the way he took off his kid gloves, finger by finger, pulling them at the tip and easing them off. He laid one on the other and offered them to her. They were warm, as if an animal still lived in the soft skin.
‘I will not ask you again what you were doing just now, for it has become clear to me. What has brought you to such a pass? Can nothing turn you from this terrible path?’
Not trusting herself to speak, Annie blinked her eyes and the tears dropped onto the gloves in her hand, darkening the light leather. She looked down at her bitten, dirty nails. She could not put the gloves over such fingers. She was not worthy to sit with this gentleman. She was nothing.
‘What is your name?’
She shook her head. ‘No point telling you that. I ain’t going to be around long enough for us to get acquainted.’
‘Do not say such a thing,’ he reproached. ‘Can I convey you somewhere? To your home?’
She gave a bitter laugh. An ugly sound. ‘I don’t have no home.’
Her voice, too, sounded ugly to her ears, her East End accent betraying her true home, her first home. The vowels of St Jude’s Street in Bethnal Green. She’d lived there with her many brothers
• 7 •
and sisters; her mother, who had a baby every year, and a father who put the babies in Ma and then blacked her eyes for falling pregnant again. By the time Annie was thirteen, she had eleven brothers and sisters and could barely remember all their names. That was when her pa had dressed her in her Sunday gown and taken her to the upper room of the Old George pub, where a gentleman waited. The gentleman told her he was her uncle and asked her to sit on his knee. Pa had been there, so she’d thought it would be all right.
It wasn’t all right. Afterwards, she’d handed Pa half the money her ‘uncle’ had given her, and run away the same night with the other half. But she’d quickly discovered that there was no way for a girl alone to live in London except by doing what she’d done with the gentleman in the upper room of the Old George in Bethnal Green. She’d met Mary Jane, they’d worked the streets together, and she’d never allowed herself to look back.
‘Have you no one to care for you?’ asked the gentleman
‘I did have a . . . companion. A girl like me. She died, here, three months ago.’
‘At Waterloo Bridge? On . . . let me see, the first of October?’ He seemed truly shaken by her revelation, as if it somehow affected him personally. As though it was his own kin, thought Annie. ‘Gracious heavens.’
He seemed truly sorry, much sorrier than Annie had been when she’d learned that Mary Jane had been found drowned. Annie had been angry. She simply didn’t know why Mary Jane had left her. They hadn’t been happy, never that, but they’d made merry enough together, and dreamed of better lives. They would have a drink in the evening and put their coins together, and talk about their clients, those men who’d paid for it. They called them ‘The Bastards’, and laughed about them all: the criers, the talkers, even the hitters. Calling them names and laughing about them was all they could do – it was the only power they had. It made it all seem a little less terrible.
• 8 •
Mary Jane had been more of a sister to Annie than any of the sisters that shared her bed in St Jude’s Street, with their sharp little elbows and their cold little feet. The two of them had always had enough to eat and drink, and a quart of ale or a posset at Christmas; sometimes a new bonnet, sometimes a feather pillow. At Yule, the bastards might buy them trinkets or gifts – not much, mind; things that were too mean for their wives but that would not cost so much money as to be missed at home from the housekeeping: tawdry brooches or cheap gloves. Yuletide was a profitable time for a likely girl, and Annie and Mary Jane had been readying themselves for a busy season. Mary Jane had seemed content – she’d been out most nights with a regular – and then one morning she just hadn’t come home, and instead of the scrape of a latchkey there’d been a dawn knock at the door and a constable standing where Mary Jane should have been.
Unknowingly, Annie had crumpled the kid gloves in her hands. She straightened them tenderly and laid them on the seat beside her. She was suddenly impatient to be gone – gone from the carriage, gone from this world. This gentleman had changed nothing. His kindness had not improved things; he’d just postponed the end. She reached for the handle of the carriage door.
‘Wait.’ He laid his warm hand over her cold fingers. ‘It distresses me greatly that you should despair of life, particularly as you seem so young in years. You are – forgive me – seventeen? Eighteen?’
She had frequently lied about her age. She was slim, and not tall, so she often shaved some years off, as some of the bastards – like that first one – seemed to prefer their girls young. Now there seemed little point in fibbing. ‘I’ll be eighteen in June.’ She corrected herself. ‘That is, I would be.’
She could see that he registered her slip and saw some hope in it. The grey eyes held a darting intelligence. ‘I will not attempt to deter you. But if I could beg you . . . would you indulge me . . . could I ask for an hour of your time?’
• 9 •
Annie narrowed her eyes. She had little vanity, but she knew well enough that her looks were her living – did this gentleman really imagine she’d spend her last hour on her back? She raised her chin. She did not have to take offers any more; she would not eke out her life in some lodging house with this fellow, however handsome he was. She looked at him sharply.
He held up his bare hands before him, fingers spread. ‘I assure you, there is nothing improper in my request. There is something I wish to show you. An hour is all I ask. And after that hour, if you wish to be returned to this place, I will have the hansom leave you here, and I will drive away and not look back.’
His grey eyes were earnest, pleading. Annie was not used to entreaty – men usually did as they wished with her, supposing that their payment excused them from such niceties. She was touched. An hour, after all, was not so very long – if she was to live a further hour on this earth, it might as well be with a man who treated her with kindness. ‘All right,’ she said. ‘An hour.’
He smiled for the first time, and it gave his handsome face a charming, open expression. He leaned from the carriage window and called to the driver, ‘Trafalgar Square.’
The driver took his hands out of his coat, touched the horse with his whip and the hansom bowled across the bridge to the north, leaving the river behind.