City of Promise: A Novel of New York's Gilded Age

City of Promise: A Novel of New York's Gilded Age

4.5 8
by Beverly Swerling
     
 

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Beverly Swerling’s critically acclaimed epic saga continues as New York emerges from the Civil War into the Gilded Age—a city marked by soaring expansion and teeming with unbridled ambition and dazzling glamour.

It is 1864. The South’s surrender is inevitable, and Manhattan is at the heart of the recovering nation’s surge to

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Overview

Beverly Swerling’s critically acclaimed epic saga continues as New York emerges from the Civil War into the Gilded Age—a city marked by soaring expansion and teeming with unbridled ambition and dazzling glamour.

It is 1864. The South’s surrender is inevitable, and Manhattan is at the heart of the recovering nation’s surge to prosperity. On its bustling streets crowds hustle from place to place amid a maelstrom of carriages and horse-drawn trolleys. Vanderbilt’s new Grand Central Depot and the glittering Ladies’ Mile shine as beacons of the city’s burgeoning wealth.

Joshua Turner returns home from the War with only one leg, but his ambition intact, and sees opportunity in the exponential growth of vital city workers—the managers and clerks who churn New York’s economic life. This new middle class must live in dreary “family residences,” where everyone eats in a shared dining room and no woman can have a key to her own front door. Manhattan, Joshua realizes, has limited land but unlimited air. He aspires to build the city’s first apartment houses for everyman, a daring vision that will make him New York's first true real estate titan but will also attract the dangerous attention of a shadowy figure from Josh’s days in a notorious Confederate prison.

Meanwhile, the irresistible and clever Mollie Brannigan, raised by her extraordinary Auntie Eileen in perhaps the toniest bordello in town, is resigned at age twenty-two to spinsterhood . . . till Joshua finds her at Macy’s, the city’s largest emporium, and takes her coaching in Central Park, while explaining why the millionaire mansions that line their route are not how he sees the future. In Joshua’s love Mollie finds a world of possibilities she had not dared to dream, but it is her aunt’s intervention that makes them real. How ironic, then, that a secret Eileen thought left behind in Ireland will force Mollie to employ all her wits to protect not just her chance at happiness but her life.

This is New York at a time of unyielding progress and technological wonder, a bustling metropolis coming into its own, as its skyline is transformed by the proliferation of ever-taller buildings and the Brooklyn Bridge slowly rises out of the East River. Vividly imagined and awash in period detail and the unforgettable characters that only Beverly Swerling can conjure, City of Promise delivers a historical adventure of suspense and intrigue, daring plot twists and bitter rivalries, and the captivating love story of two people struggling to forge their own destiny.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Swerling's latest epic reveals the extremes of New York's Gilded Age. When one-legged Joshua Turner returns home after the Civil War, New York is still a city of horse-drawn vehicles and boarding houses. With plans swirling for the Brooklyn Bridge and an elevated train, Josh realizes that the city lacks housing for working class families, and limited land prevents sprawling housing projects. He develops a scheme to build vertical housing, which is initially funded with the dowry received from his wife Mollie's Aunt Eileen. A fortunate encounter with Ebenezer Tickle, a dwarf familiar with the new Bessemer process of making steel, enables Josh to successfully build profitable multi-storied apartment buildings. Unfortunately, New York is a city of graft and greed and Josh's success is coveted by others, especially Trenton Clifford, who wants Josh's land holdings to destroy Josh, and because the land's value will escalate when a proposed subway system is built. Clifford employs murder, extortion, and even kidnapping to gain his ends. Although the pace often lags in this sprawling novel, Swerling (City of God: A Novel of Passion and Wonder in Old New York) vividly captures the greed, corruption, violence, and banking failures that accompanied vast new advances in transportation, communication, and lighting during this era. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
“[Swerling] nimbly weaves fact-based history and fast-paced fiction into a vivid tableau of 1870s Manhattan" —Beth Johnson, Entertainment Weekly

“Run, do not walk, to purchase a copy of Beverly Swerling’s compulsively readable City of Promise.” —Mark Peikert, New York Press

“With a fast-paced, complex plot showcasing opulent Fifth Avenue mansions, Wall Street pandemonium, deals both fair and underhand, and the rising influence of the ethnic gangs, Swerling expertly interlaces the stories of a Gilded Age couple and their magnificent city. Compulsive reading that informs and entertains.” —Sarah Johnson, Booklist

“Clearly, if Swerling had been my history teacher, I would have paid closer attention. . . . These private and national escapades play out in a great swirl of plots and counter plots . . . riotously entertaining." —Ron Charles, The Washington Post

"The title city is New York. The age is gilded. The Civil War is about to end, and the author is tackling love, life, adventure, big business and the dazzling glamour and appalling squalor of the city that never sleeps. Even way back in the 1860s." —Anne Bendheim, Asbury Park Press (New Jersey)

“Swerling vividly captures the greed, corruption, violence, and banking failures that accompanied vast new advances in transportation, communication, and lighting during this era." Publishers Weekly

"A whopping saga . . . teeming with bizarre medicine, slave uprisings, executions, thriving brothels, and occasional cannibalistic Indians. . . . A near perfect historical novel." —Mark Rozzo, Los Angeles Times, on City of Dreams

"The history of New York City, as told through the fiction of Beverly Swerling, just keeps getting better." —Terry Mapes, Mansfield News Journal (Ohio)

“The author brings the time alive with true characters . . . conflict, tension, romance, the upper and lower levels of society and a satisfying finale. Highly recommended.” The Historical Novels Review, on City of Glory

Kirkus Reviews

Swerling (City of Dreams, 2001, etc.) continues her series of "city of" novels celebrating the history of New York.

This installment finds an unhappy young man named Joshua Turner freshly returned to Manhattan from service in the Civil War, during which he's lost a leg along the way and now sports a peg in its place. (Smoking gun warning: The peg comes into its own at a critical point in the story.) Joshua isn't one to be inconvenienced by such trifles: He's single-minded in the same way that his mogul successor Donald Trump is abrasive, though, admittedly, he's much less entertaining than The Donald. Alas, the war follows him home, first in the person of a pal's brother-in-law, a rebel spy caught in the act of a spectacular arson, and over whom Josh expresses regrets that he wasn't on hand to save the day. Writes said secessionist, "My dear brother-in-law and friend...Much as I hope for the success of our mission to burn New York to the ground, I also pray God that you and yours will somehow survive whatever turmoil we unleash." That "we" is an operative word, for Johnny Reb isn't alone in wanting to see bad things happen to Gotham, and Joshua is caught up in an intrigue that unfolds above and below the streets of the city over the years to come. Fortunately, he doesn't have to fight the battle alone; he's since won the heart of a former brothel inmate. The novel is competent enough, though the dialogue is a touch flat, the scenes sometimes too contrived and the yokels too yokely: "He's always walking around the city drawing things," says one. "Illustrations he calls 'em." Right.

Swerling doesn't promise more than she delivers, but this is still a rather ordinary novel. For a stronger thriller set in the same time and place, see Frederick Busch'sThe Night Inspector.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781439136966
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
08/28/2012
Pages:
448
Sales rank:
481,080
Product dimensions:
5.66(w) x 8.28(h) x 1.12(d)

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