The Goddess and the Thief by Essie Fox

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The Goddess and the Thief by Essie Fox

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Category: Crime (Historical)
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: Another dark historical novel featuring the Victorians by a specialist. This time it includes Queen Victoria herself in an interesting study of power in relationships rather than historic events.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: December 2013
Publisher: Orion
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1409146193

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Alice Willoughby may only be a child but she feels at one with India, the country in which she was born and where her father works for the East India Company. The sights, the smells and the tales of the Indian gods told by Mini, her Indian ayah all contribute to it being home, despite the sub-continent having made her motherless. Therefore imagine her disgust when she's left in the hands of her Aunt Mercy (a counterfeit medium) in drab, dirty Victorian London. Life isn't easy anymore but it takes on a new turn when she meets the mysterious Mr Tilsbury. He has a plan for her that includes the theft of the Koh-I-Noor diamond, Her Majesty's pride and joy.

Essie Fox is an author who loves writing about Victoriana as she has demonstrated in Elijah's Mermaid and her debut, The Somnambulist before that. Essie has another trademark along with the era, namely the interesting stranger. In The Goddess and the Thief he comes to us in the form of the charismatic Mr Tilsbury. He starts on the side lines but just wait.

Although we view most of the novel through Alice's eyes, Tilsbury dominates the book with his presence as much as he dominates Alice. In fact, although Victorian Britain and its Indian empire backdrop this dramatic novel, the focal point is somewhere between Alice, Mr T and Aunt Mercy. Indeed their relationship is so central that even the theft of the most famous diamond of the time (a pretty big event we'd suppose) is eclipsed. Yes, the diamond's been nicked, now back to Mercy, Tilsbury and Alice. However Auntie M and her exotic stranger are such deep, rich characters we don't mind. It's just a shame that an unexpected talent (no spoilers!) isn't used more.

Mercy is Dahlishly Dickensesque but this is a time when it's hard for a woman alone to be able to survive if without wit and deviousness so she's authentically selfish. This potential powerlessness is also exhibited by poor Alice, hoist on a petard of naiveté and accepted drug use which makes her almost a shadow between the two irresistible forces in her life. I won't say too much about Tilsbury for fear of spoiling, but let's just say we feel Alice's annoyance and frustration while being faced with someone who is highly intelligent and (for us) satisfyingly, moustache-twirlingly-nuts.

Also, as in previous outings, Essie treats us to some real people, led by Queen Victoria, only a year into her widowhood and missing Albert. Then there's Duleep Singh, someone with whom Alice has something in common. For despite being a prince, he too has been snatched from his Indian homeland. The idea behind his forced migration is to 'Christianise' him in the UK with a view to returning him to India as a puppet ruler for the Crown and the omnipotent East India Company.

Essie knows how to build to an exciting climax as we race through some surprise and some half-expected twists and turns. For instance, diary entries from people like Alice's late father are scattered through the narrative, then on the last page there's a diary entry from someone who provides a final corker. It makes sense of some previous delicately (or not so delicately) placed clues but it makes a good ending.

Indeed once again Essie has produced a fascinating tale of how the mores and customs of the 19th century can cause both suffering and intrigue while making it a lot more enjoyable to read than it seemed to be to live through!

I'd like to thank Orion for providing us with a review copy.

Further Reading: If this appeals then we also recommend Elijah's Mermaid. If you've read this and enjoy some Victorian intrigue, we think you may also enjoy The Mangle Street Murders by MRC Kasasian.

Buy The Goddess and the Thief by Essie Fox at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Goddess and the Thief by Essie Fox at

Buy The Goddess and the Thief by Essie Fox at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Goddess and the Thief by Essie Fox at


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