Liverpool in 1826 offers few options for an orphaned girl forced into prostitution by her stepfather. However, through luck and cleverness, Linny Gow eventually manages to establish a tenuous hold on middle-class respectability. A chance to accompany another young woman to India seems to offer a fresh start. Unfortunately, life in the Raj proves just as stifling and restricted as Victorian England, with Linny blackmailed into marrying a homosexual and the British matrons condemning Linny's sympathy for the poor and her contacts with the natives. Holeman, who has written historical fiction for young adults, excels at descriptions of Linny's surroundings, from the slums of Liverpool and Calcutta to the vistas of Kashmir. Numerous minor characters and subplots swirl around Linny, but her compelling story holds center stage and drives readers forward. Fans of historical romance will relish her tale.-Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State Univ. Lib., Mankato Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
An abused young woman rises from whoredom to respectability in Canadian YA author Holeman's first adult novel: a lively, quite readable Victorian pastiche. Hopefully named for the eponymous songbird by her mother, a disgraced lady's maid who had borne her out of wedlock, Linnet Gow labors with that mother (Frances) at a bookbinder's-until the latter's death leaves "Linny" in the Liverpool slums and the clutches of her drunken stepfather "Ram" Munt, who employs her as a child prostitute. Linny's fantasies of comfort and learning (she's a passionate reader) are subjugated to the sweaty embraces of malodorous seamen and sinister "uncles." Surviving near death, then fleeing Ram, she becomes a street whore for Dickensian procuress Blue, before being rescued by Geoffrey "Shaker" Smallpiece, a compassionate anatomy student (whose hands, alas, tremble uncontrollably). While posing as a bereaved Smallpiece cousin, Linny is befriended by an importunate acquaintance and travels to Calcutta, where unmarried Englishwomen comprise a "fishing fleet" trolling for suitable men. Linny meets suave Somers Ingram, stumbles upon his Terrible Secret and-on being assured that he has guessed hers-agrees to a marriage of mutual convenience. Linny next involves herself in the case of a Hindu Pathan falsely accused of raping a white woman (shades of Forster's A Passage to India), rediscovers her suppressed sexuality when abducted into a Lawrencian romantic adventure in the hill country and finally becomes the real woman she hasn't been since her preadolescence. The story is considerably less absurd than summary makes it sound, largely because Holeman creates vividly realistic characters, writes crisp dialogue anddelineates her several period milieus in memorably full detail. Furthermore, she refuses to sentimentalize Linny, or reward her with a conventional happy ending (the ironic fate reserved for her has considerable power). Overdone, but a very nice try, and well worth reading.