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Two unconventional Victorian sisters try to break free from the oppressive society in which they were born.

Growing up motherless in the chaotic midst of their father’s massive collection of antiques and oddities, Lilian and Alice Talbot always knew they could look to each other for comfort and companionship. But that all changes after a seduced and abandoned Lilian is forced to hastily marry a dour missionary and move to India. Forbidden by her father to even write to her sister, Alice all but resigns herself to a lonely life as glorified housekeeper. Things get a bit interesting, though, with the arrival of Mr. Blake, a young photographer assigned the job of shooting Mr. Talbot’s Collection. He takes a shine to the tall and athletic Alice, who discovers several piquant photos in Mr. Blake’s possession—the worst of which feature Dr. Cattermole, an oily quack who has gained her father’s confidence. For some reason the odious doctor has become obsessed with Alice, believing her frank manner and boyish figure to be signs of a serious medical condition. He conspires with her father to “cure” her surgically without her consent. Lilian, meanwhile, has fallen in love with her exotic new home, if not her husband, and hatches a scheme to summon Alice to her side. Revenge also plays into Lilian’s plans after she is reacquainted with the dashing Mr. Hunter, the same adventurer who ruined her reputation and broke her heart. He claims he has changed, but can Lilian ever trust him again? Does she even want to? Thousands of miles apart, the girls must use their considerable resourcefulness to get out of some sticky predicaments, including a native revolt, ether addiction and various acts of astonishing misogyny, all in the hopes of seeing each other again. Not surprisingly, the male characters in this spirited debut fare badly, but Alice and Lilian are fabulous, quirky characters, gifted with an engrossing plot. Here’s hoping we will meet them again.

A rollicking good time that does not take itself too seriously.

Pub Date: April 14th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-307-40834-1
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2009