Thanks to Penguin Books and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.
I can’t help but feel a little sorry for a debut author when their book is promoted as being similar to x or y. This particular book has been compared to both Alias Grace and Fingersmith. I can totally understand why publishers do this but, I think I’d find being compared to Margaret Atwood and Sarah Waters more than a little intimidating personally. It’s a lot for a debut novel to live up to and sets a certain expectation for the reader.
The novel follows the titular Frannie Langton, a mixed race slave born and raised in Jamaica. The initial chapters take place on a Jamaican plantation before the action moves to Victorian era London. At the beginning of the book we learn that Frannie has been accused of murdering her employers, including the Mistress of the house, her rumoured lover. Condemned to hang, she recounts her tale to us, the reader, although she is not always the most reliable narrator.
I found this novel quite difficult to follow at first, particularly at the beginning in relation to the experiments Frannie is supposed to have taken part in with Mr Langton. I’m guessing this was a deliberate choice on the part of the author but I couldn’t help getting frustrated as it felt like I had missed something.
My frustration wasn’t really helped by the slump of pace in the middle of the novel where I started to lose interest. Things picked up again towards the end but it never really recovered for me after the loss of momentum in the middle. The love affair was quite interesting because of the LGBTQ representation but aside from that aspect I didn’t find the plot itself particularly compelling.
There really is nothing wrong with this novel, it just didn’t grip me and I couldn’t help comparing it to similar novels that have the same setting and explore similar themes. I don’t feel too guilty about doing this as this is how the book is being promoted. It’s well-written and entertaining enough but, I just didn’t feel that there was anything new enough here to excite me or to elevate it above other similarly themed novels.