London, 1861. Each day Grace must find a new way of earning enough money to pay the rent for the bleak, cold room that she and her sister live in, and to buy them enough - just - to eat.
But there is a different danger threatening Grace, a danger linked to an event in her past that she is desperate to forget. Grace has caught the eye of the Unwins, an unscrupulous family whose shady business dealings are those of death and mourning, and who will stop at nothing to defraud two young women of what is rightfully theirs...A gripping, fast-paced novel for older children about two poverty-stricken sisters and their struggle to survive in Victorian London.
When we first meet Grace Parks, she is a fifteen-year-old girl living in 1861 London who is just about to deliver her first child out of wedlock. Grace is orphaned, and has had to look after her sister Lily since their mother passed away. They are both poor and living in the slums, often going without food when they can't manage to make enough money selling watercress on the streets. Given she hasn't gotten enough money to feed and clothe herself and her sister, let alone a newborn baby, it is possibly an act of mercy when the midwife informs Grace that her baby was stillborn. The young girl is of course devastated, and feeling sorry for her, the midwife tells her about a way in which her baby can find proper burial in a beautiful cemetery just outside London, instead of being thrown into a communal pauper's grave. While at the cemetery, Grace will meet two individuals who will play large roles in the Parks sisters' fortunes, in the persons of the kindly James Solent, a law clerk, and Mrs Unwin, the wife of one of London's most successful undertakers, who suggests to her she has the perfect face, solemn and tragic, to be employed as a "mute", or a professional mourner, though Grace, quite put off, doesn't intend to take her up on the offer. Directly inspired by Dickens' tales—the great writer even plays a small role in the novel—and therefore peopled with wonderfully wicked characters, the novel follows the sisters as they are forced onto the London streets and have no choice but to turn to the villainous Unwins for sustenance, much as Grace dislikes the idea of making a living from the funeral industry. This line of business is about to get an incredible boost upon the death of Prince Consort Albert in December 1861, when Queen Victoria declares the nation to be in a state mourning. Probably written for a young adult readership, but who cares? it's a great yarn and worth the detour.
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Where does Fallen Grace rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?
This is at the top of my list. I have heard some fabulous audiobooks this year. This one has seriously struck a chord with me. Kate Byers does a fantastic, truly remarkable job doing the voices of the various characters.
Who was your favorite character and why?
Lily, the "simple" sister, is extremely compelling. But her sister Grace is just as powerful, a young woman of such wisdom, bravery and moral/psychological fortitude.
Have you listened to any of Kate Byers’s other performances before? How does this one compare?
No, I have not. I'll be looking out for more of her work.
Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?
When Grace goes to see Lily at the Unman's(?) to see how Lily is holding up, it is just so heartbreakingly powerful. It reminded me of times when I was crushed and full of despair over something, and my big sister's efforts were to make me feel more brave, help me to endure. This moment was so totally poignant and unforgettable. As are others in the story!
Any additional comments?
I want to find this performance on a CD so I can send it to my sister!