Author: Carol Edgarian
Source: from publisher for review
Summary: The characters were interesting, but the plot and setting were pretty lackluster.
This is the story of “Vera Johnson, the uncommonly resourceful fifteen-year-old illegitimate daughter of Rose, notorious proprietor of San Francisco’s most legendary bordello and ally to the city’s corrupt politicians. Vera has grown up straddling two worlds—the madam’s alluring sphere, replete with tickets to the opera, surly henchmen, and scant morality, and the violent, debt ridden domestic life of the family paid to raise her.” (source) This description is a little on the grim side for my taste, but I was intrigued by the historical setting around the 1905 San Francisco earthquake and picked this up for that reason.
I was initially surprised to find that I enjoyed the characters in this book more than the setting. We got to know Vera quickly, with intimate insight into her hopes and fears. She’s a complex character with both admirable characteristics and clear character flaws. I also enjoyed one particularly complex relationship as she allies with a person she disliked following the quake. On the other hand, the setting was a bit of a let down. We only meet about five characters. We see three or four locations, but they weren’t described in much detail. I just didn’t feel like I got an idea of what the city was like. The scale of the story was simply too small.
While there were parts of this book that I liked and parts that I didn’t, the overall arc of the story was unsatisfying. It took some consideration to determine why that was the case. I think one major problem was that our main character didn’t experience much character growth. Her virtues and vices were pretty much the same at the beginning and the end of the book. I also didn’t find the changes in her material circumstances or interpersonal relationship particularly significant. Although the main character tells us a bit about her life after the end of the book, none of the changes we see or hear about in her life had a real emotional impact. The outcomes she experienced felt neither heartwarmingly happy nor heartrendingly tragic. I was just lukewarm about the entire arc of the story. That made this a relatively disappointing read for me.