Maude Horton’s Glorious Revenge is the story of two young sisters. Maude is the more caring and thoughtful one. Her story is told in the third person. Constance is the adventurous sister, who recounts her own story in a journal while masquerading as a cabin boy on the sailing ship Makepeace.
Unfortunately, this diary is presented in the same style and with the same voice as that of the third person narrator, making it challenging for the reader to believe it was written under the cramped and dangerous conditions of which the journal tells.
The novel is set mid-19th century, partly in England and partly on board the Makepeace, a sailing ship the British Admiralty has sent on an expedition. Maude learns that Constance stowed away on that ship and, when the ship returns to England without her, Maude leaves no stone unturned to find out what happened. She is determined to avenge anyone who may have harmed the sister she cherished.
While Constance’s story is about her shipboard adventures, Maude’s focuses on how she goes about discovering her sister’s fate, then plotting and executing her revenge. Reading Constance’s story there is no need to suspend disbelief (except, perhaps, for the need to forgive one too many coincidences).
The problem with Maude’s story is that it is very hard to believe that a person as she is pictured would do some of the things attributed to her. Would an unchaperoned young women spend more than two weeks tracking a suspected villain through the dangerous backstreets of 1850s London?
‘She trailed him carefully down alleys cast in patchwork shadow. She tracked him around courtyard hovels strung with laundry.’Maude Horton’s Glorious Revenge
There is nothing wrong in expecting the reader to suspend disbelief about events or people. But, for that to work, the protagonists themselves must at least be convincing.
There is nothing unconvincing about the descriptions of life on the Makepeace, however, or of London and nearby places. Pook’s England of the 1850s is a place where public hangings are a popular source of entertainment. Maude attends a number of such executions, leaving the reader with a powerful sensation of these ghastly exhibitions. They will also have a vivid impression of the crowds that swarmed to these horrible events as part of their day’s recreation.
But, for this reviewer, the complex, exciting, well-researched adventure story was spoilt by two-dimensional and contradictory characterisation. I concede, though, that there could be many readers who would not share my point of view. And they would find in this book an intriguing detective story, with many surprising twists and turns – a story that morphs into horror as Maude finally gets her revenge. They will relish the triumph of a young woman over powerful villains in high places. They will enjoy how she outwits avaricious rascals. They will get their money’s worth.
Maude Horton’s Glorious Revenge, Lizzie Pook
Publisher: Viking (PRH)
Pages: 336 pg
Publication date: 23 January 2024