The title caught my attention first. Then I saw the cover and I was hooked. It’s a little bit fairytale, a little bit cartoon, and that suits the book very well.
The opening sets the scene wonderfully. A Victorian mansion where the gates are always locked. The master shut them when his wife died and nobody goes through them without his permission. And so his twin daughters have been isolated from the world. They have their grandmother and their spinster aunts, but they too are under the master’s thumb.
He is a collector, a traveller, a man of science, a man with a wide range of interests. And, though he doesn’t intend it, that helps his daughters to grow up to be strong, intelligent and independent.
But can they triumph over their circumstances? Lilian has disgraced herself and been swiftly married off to a missionary who takes her to India. Alice has been left behind to care for her father’s vast collections, under the watchful eye of the sinister Doctor Cattermole.
Each woman is at the start of an adventure. As the story alternated between the pair they meet with romance, action adventure and intrigue. They have triumphs, but they have setbacks too. The story is fabulous and, because the girls have grown up away from society, they are oblivious to social strictures and simply use their hearts and minds as they steer their extraordinary courses.
No, of course it isn’t realistic, but it’s an entertaining story very well told. The characters are simply but clearly defined, and they all do their jobs very well. The settings are effective too, and some wonderful scenes are played out, creating more than enough drama to keep the pages turning.
And along the way the author is able to say great deal about the position of women in Victorian England, the Raj, science, collecting, and a few more things that I can’t quite put a name to.
There were moments I worried. When the story seemed to becoming a little bit too cartoon-like, one-dimensional. But, though it rattled a few times, it just about stayed on the tracks. And wound up with a spectacular finale, that saw all the womenfolk, grandmother and aunts included, rise up to seize control of their lives. It was the kind of ending that makes you want to hold your breath and cheer at the same time!
Definitely a book with the wow factor!
NOTE:- The Peachgrowers’ Almanac is the UK title. In the USA, and maybe some other countries the same book goes by A Proper Education for Girls.