Title: The Hourglass Factory
Author: Lucy Ribchester
Genre: Historical Fiction
“1912 and London is in turmoil…
The suffragette movement is reaching fever pitch but for broke Fleet Street tomboy Frankie George, just getting by in the cut-throat world of newspapers is hard enough. Sent to interview trapeze artist Ebony Diamond, Frankie finds herself fascinated by the tightly laced acrobat and follows her across London to a Mayfair corset shop that hides more than one dark secret.
Then Ebony Diamond mysteriously disappears in the middle of a performance, and Frankie is drawn into a world of tricks, society columnists, corset fetishists, suffragettes and circus freaks. How did Ebony vanish, who was she afraid of, and what goes on behind the doors of the mysterious Hourglass Factory?
From the newsrooms of Fleet Street to the drawing rooms of high society, the missing Ebony Diamond leads Frankie to the trail of a murderous villain with a plot more deadly than anyone could have imagined…”
I wanted to love this. I really did. It had everything going for it – Victorian London, the Suffragettes, circuses and mysteries but sadly, I feel a little let down. I originally picked up the book because I was sold on the opening lines of the blurb, “Meet Ebony Diamond: Trapeze Artist, Tiger Tamer, Suffragette. Where there is trouble, she’s not far away. But now she’s the one in trouble and she’s up to her neck in it.” However, this most engaging of characters is absent for the vast majority of the story! I can’t help but feel slightly misled.
I can’t really identify anything that was exceptionally good or exceptionally bad about it. It just left me with an overwhelming sense that it was all a bit bland. It wasn’t so terrible that I wanted to give up but I also didn’t feel all that driven to keep turning the pages. The plot was competent but seemed to meander and felt oddly paced with the characters fumbling from one clue to the next. This meant that often upon reaching a revelatory moment I had already forgotten the key information or character involved. I’m not enough of an expert to comment on the historical integrity but it’s broader context felt largely authentic, particularly the Suffragette protests and descriptions of force feeding.
I found the range female characters to be a touch caricatured and as such I struggled to connect with them. Not only that but they also seemed a bit incongruous with the more historically authentic characters. I didn’t dislike them but neither did I care about them either. Similarly, I still a little at odds as to what this book was about. That’s not to say I didn’t understand it. But there didn’t seem to be a primary storyline that drove the novel forward, it felt instead that the “finding Ebony” arc was simply there to give a framework on which to hang a plethora of plots, underdeveloped characters, historical references and commentary on the Suffrage movement. There is definitely something of the ‘overstuffed’ about this book and yet another one that could have done with some significant streamlining to allow for character development and tighter narrative.
Ultimately, The Hourglass Factory is neither good nor bad and it is it’s inability to stand out that is its greatest weakness.