A lady boxer, a poxy lady and a louche pretty boy tangle in 18th-century England.
"I'd like to say that my beginnings were humble, but they weren't beginnings, because I never really left them but for a short while." This is Ruth, and the birthplace and lifelong home she's referring to is a Bristol whorehouse known as "the convent." When her older half sister, Dora, is drafted at "12 or 13" into the ranks of their mother's "misses," plain-faced Ruth feels left out and jealous, not least of the big, fat piece of bacon Dora now rates at the breakfast table. The tension erupts into a catfight, which the gentleman patrons witness with such enthusiasm that it's moved to the yard outside and bets are placed. One of the onlookers is a fellow named Dryer; he becomes the patron of both girls, Dora at the brothel and Ruth in the boxing ring. (In the Author’s Note of her debut novel, Freeman writes that lady pugilists were just one of many rough entertainments common in the nasty, smelly 1700s, so brilliantly evoked here.) Through Dryer, Ruth will eventually meet the two other main characters of the story, both of whom take turns with her in telling it. One is Charlotte Sinclair, an upper-class young woman who was terribly marked by childhood smallpox; she ends up married to the awful Dryer. The other is George Bowden, a schoolmate of both Dryer and Charlotte's brother Perry; George's good looks far surpass his moral character. Gamblers, drinkers, fighters, hookers; the fancy, the rowdy, the rude—Freeman does a wonderful job of spinning this furious yarn, in which the fury of women plays the lead role.
Great characters and wild turns of events make this book a knockout.