Review: A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller

a mad, wicked folly -sharon biggs wallerWelcome to the world of the fabulously wealthy in London, 1909, where dresses and houses are overwhelmingly opulent, social class means everything, and women are taught to be nothing more than wives and mothers. Into this world comes seventeen-year-old Victoria Darling, who wants only to be an artist—a nearly impossible dream for a girl.

After Vicky poses nude for her illicit art class, she is expelled from her French finishing school. Shamed and scandalized, her parents try to marry her off to the wealthy Edmund Carrick-Humphrey. But Vicky has other things on her mind: her clandestine application to the Royal College of Art; her participation in the suffragette movement; and her growing attraction to a working-class boy who may be her muse—or may be the love of her life. As the world of debutante balls, corsets, and high society obligations closes in around her, Vicky must figure out: just how much is she willing to sacrifice to pursue her dreams?


 

4.5 Drink Me Potions


A Mad, Wicked Folly has been on my to-read list for a long while, but I kept putting it off for who knows what reasons. So to my utter surprise, I realize I had set aside this long a book that spoke volumes to me. The historical YA genre has started picking up with better books lately, so if you like a dose of history (with clear evidence of research into the time period) along with a strong protagonist fighting for a cause, this is the book for you.

Set in the early 1900s, the women suffragist movement was picking up in both America and England. I always love a good novel set in London, and this Edwardian era novel is no exception. The times are changing and women are fighting for more freedom and equal opportunities as men. More education, getting their own wages and doing something more substantial than just hosting the next dinner party for their husbands. I never considered myself a huge feminist and just briefly studied the history of women’s rights. But this book really opened my eyes to the very realistic struggle that such women went through in order to make a better life for their daughters, their nieces and any woman who was radical enough to want something more for themselves for a change.

Vicky Darling was no exception as such a protagonist. She yearns to go to art school, to exhibit her work in galleries and get paid for it. She dreams more for herself than just being a docile wife to a man who thinks she has no brain or useful purpose beyond being an arm candy.

I loved Vicky. She was already bold for a girl in her social circle. Being an upper middle class young woman meant more pressures into being the traditional kind of lady. Marrying for title and for money. It was harder to break out of the mold. But she posed nude. For the sake of art! I’m not sure even I would be bold enough to do such a thing now, 100+ years after.

Not only was she courageous enough to do such a thing, she faced the resulting consequences with her head held high. She grew immensely through the events of the book. Sharon Biggs Waller did a great job of documenting the events of Vicky’s life after that single moment. Vicky initially didn’t align herself with the suffragettes but the focus of this book is mostly on their fight for equality.

Now, normally, I would think such a premise would make it kinda boring, right? And of course, there’s tons more to this story beyond the historical accuracies of the women rights movement for voting. However, this surprisingly (and I’m glad for it) took my breath away, at the emotion of the fight. It might connect more if you are also a woman, to understand that real women fought such things so that we could do things we take for granted now.

If that doesn’t satisfy you enough to want to pick up the book, A Mad, Wicked Folly also revolves around a love triangle of sorts. You know I abhor those, but this was more of a complicated situation. On one hand, Vicky needed to get out of her father’s control, and marriage to a suitable husband could provide that. Even if she didn’t love him.

On the other hand, you’ve got Police Constable William Fletcher. Ah, Will.

The blooming romance with him was amazing. And it mainly stems from how great (and hot) of a model he makes for Vicky’s drawings. Here is where the other great aspect of the book comes in. Wait for it? Is it the romance? Sure, it played a decent role in the plot and was very enjoyable, but what blew my mind? The art.

I don’t confess to know much about art, or have the greatest passion for it. I’m more of a writer, if this doesn’t already surprise you. But the details that went into describing Vicky’s work and seeing her world through an artist’s eye made it all the more breathtaking.

I think there’s a bit of everything all wrapped up in a beautiful novel set in Edwardian London. Don’t make the mistake I did to wait so long to read it. Sharon Biggs Waller writes in a manner that draws you into the time period and into the emotions of our protagonist and those surrounding her.

Overall Recommendation:
A Mad, Wicked Folly is another example of how amazing well-researched historical YA books can be. Vicky Darling is an artist, or at least she hopes to be if she could ever get the chance to learn more. But in Edwardian London, women aren’t allowed the same opportunities. Set in the time period of the women’s rights movement, it gives a wonderful picture of how hard real-life women in the past fought for things we may take advantage of now. Vicky’s journey and self-growth as she learns what it takes, what sacrifices she may need to make, in order to pursue her dream as a young woman in the early 20th century. Add a sweet romance with her model, I’m sure this book has something to draw just about anyone in. Who ever said history couldn’t be fun to read about?

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