Review - The House of Hidden Wonders
The House of Hidden Wonders by Sharon Gosling
Zinnie and her sisters live in the murky tunnels beneath Edinburgh's Old Town.
They keep out of the way of the authorities and remain undetected.
Until, that is, rumours of a ghost bring unwanted visitors into the caverns they call home.
Among them, a young Arthur Conan Doyle, keen to investigate, and MacDuff, the shady owner of Edinburgh's newest attraction, the House of Wonders.
Caught up in a world of intrigue and adventure, Zinnie seeks answers. But how can she discover what secrets lie in the House of Wonders while also protecting the sisters she holds so dear?
A beautiful, emotional, clever and utterly fascinating story that cleverly weaves together fiction and history.
Honestly, this is one of my top picks for my book of the year. With no anticipation, as I read it the day it was announced, it absolutely blew me away!
It's a stand-alone story, though it has a lot of similar themes and the same period setting as The Golden Butterfly, also by Sharon Gosling (and also a spectacularly good novel!) While The Golden Butterfly is set in the theatres of Victorian London, The House of Hidden Wonders takes place in and below Edinburgh. The city is brought vibrantly to life, with a wealth of detail and atmosphere, particularly the parts set in the ruins of old Edinburgh, which are mostly buried under the city built on top of them. You can go there, and wander around it in a weird, creepy ghost town. The thought of young children living down there is a chilling one.
And this is a chilling novel. Unlike the rather well-to-do heroine of the Golden Butterfly, the girls in this novel are homeless, scraping a living any way they can on the streets. They've fallen through the cracks in society, and it's harrowing to see how hard their lives are, and the extent to which their at the mercy of street thugs, starvation and disease.
But it's also a novel filled with love and hope. The bond between the sisters is really something very special, and when Zinnie asserts that they are sisters, despite their different appearances and parents and everything, it is just a truly beautiful moment. The way they support each other and that palpable love between them is gorgeous.
I loved the mix of historical and fictional characters, and I thought this worked really well. The young Arthur Conan Doyle is a very amusing figure, and there's fun to be had in little hints about his future writing career. I'd never heard of Sophia Jex-Blake until I read this book, and her real life story is a fascinating one, and something I think more people should be aware of. As with The Golden Butterfly, the way feminist themes are woven through the novel is very clever and very powerful. But one of my favourite characters has to be the (fictional) Lady Sarah Montague, the wealthy widow turned world explorer. Her dinner party scene was just absolutely fantastic, hilarious and inspirational. Victorian-era mansplaining put down with consummate style.
The plot is absolutely cracking. There are so many mysterious elements, a truly nasty villain, a cute animal sidekick, dastardly plots and complicated plans to stop them.. I couldn't put the book down until I'd finished. There's also some really sensitively done disability-representation, that I thought was beautifully handled.
A truly stunning novel, emotional, exciting and empowering.
The House of Hidden Wonders is published on 2nd April 2020 by Little Tiger Press. I received an eProof via Netgalley in return for an honest review.