On a murky night in Victorian London, baby Pearl is found floating in the Thames.
Raised in a brothel, she is spoilt and pampered – but when she comes of age she is sold off to a deranged artist in need of a muse. Meanwhile, the orphaned twins Elijah and Lily grow up on an idyllic countryside estate. Drawn to the bright lights of the capital, their fates become entwined with Pearl's.
Essie Fox's novel reads at times like a pastiche of Wilkie Collins, who similarly mixed progressive social commentary with narrative thrills and suspense. But there are also darker, Gothic elements here that expose the mouldy underbelly of Victoriana. Fox lingers on grotesque images – from a wrinkled mermaid in a freak show to a prostitute's syphilis-ravaged features – and the effect can be deliciously unsettling.