Review By Don Sloan
Belle Fortune’s remarkable journey begins on the day she’s bundled off to the Glass Town Establishment for Girls. Belle is an imaginative young woman, and that’s the problem. This excellent and exceptionally well-written novel is the story of how Belle uses her imagination to transform her plain, ordinary life into one of untold possibilities.
Belle quickly learns that there are mysteries to be solved in the school and near Glass Town. Strange numbers scrawled on walls and dark hints of eerie goings-on at The House on the Island intrigue her and serve as welcome distractions from the dull work of learning to become a Well Brought Up Girl.
A grisly and disturbing play is performed at the palatial home of Horace Glass, the town magnate. He becomes irate and makes the mistake of slapping one of his daughters, who arranged for the theatrical production at the party. Will Reynolds, a footman and admirer of the daughter, Amity, lays him out, then must flee for his life.
Belle, who wrote the tale upon which the play was based, resolves to write more penny dreadful stories to delight her friends and the oppressed children who toil all day in Glass’ prisonlike factory. As a result, she is rounded up by Glass one day and banished to work in the factory herself.
From there, the narrative twists and winds, as Belle is rescued from the clutches of the oppressive overseer, Mr. Pinch, and Will is stricken with an insidious fever.
Can Belle liberate the poor children working like slaves at Glass’ onerous factory? Does Will finally recover and requite the desperate love of young Amity? And what other secrets will be uncovered in the course of this well-paced piece of fiction?
The book is filled with superb turns-of-phrase and lyrical passages that transport the reader into the pages. Early in the novel, the author describes the chilling, barren countryside:.
“The wind blew in a gust and the light flickered over something that moved there, a figure in the shape of a person with hair the color of old bones in moonlight, or a faded wedding gown.”
And later, describing Will’s fierce devotion to his friends and one true love:
“There had been anger in him, like a shiny black stone in his stomach, but also laughter that was a gaslight in his chest, and kindness that was a flashing silver streak running along his spine.”
Rich characterizations and superb story development make this nineteenth century-era novel resonate with hope, courage, and triumph. I give Penny Dreadful five unqualified stars, and recommend it to anyone who is looking for a rewarding read.
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