Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller

A Mad, Wicked Folly
by Sharon Biggs Waller
Read: September 20 - 21, 2013
January 23, 2014 by Viking Juvenile **TODAY!**
Source: Copy from author in exchange for an honest review 
Category: Historical, YA
Find: Goodreads | Amazon

Welcome to the world of the fabulously wealthy in London, 1909, where dresses and houses are overwhelmingly opulent, social class means everything, and women are taught to be nothing more than wives and mothers. Into this world comes seventeen-year-old Victoria Darling, who wants only to be an artist—a nearly impossible dream for a girl.
After Vicky poses nude for her illicit art class, she is expelled from her French finishing school. Shamed and scandalized, her parents try to marry her off to the wealthy Edmund Carrick-Humphrey. But Vicky has other things on her mind: her clandestine application to the Royal College of Art; her participation in the suffragette movement; and her growing attraction to a working-class boy who may be her muse—or may be the love of her life. As the world of debutante balls, corsets, and high society obligations closes in around her, Vicky must figure out: just how much is she willing to sacrifice to pursue her dreams?

It's 1909 and Vicky Darling is attending a posh finishing school in France, except she's more interested in art than the social rolls she's supposed to be learning. When it's discovered that Vicky posed nude for an illicit art class, she gets expelled from school and sent back to London. Her parents are angry and embarrassed, and do their best to set her on the "right" path. But Vicky has dreams of her own, and a struggle begins between what Vicky wants and what is expected of her as a female in the early twentieth century. 

What I liked: 

1) Setting. A Mad, Wicked Folly takes place in London in the early twentieth century during the Edwardian era, when society is on the cusp of major social and technological changes. The modern era is coming with automobiles and phones, but also women’s rights issues are being challenged, especially suffrage and the role of women in and out of the home. Vicky comes from the newer wealth of merchants that is on the rise, instead of the old aristocracy, and that further sets her amidst the changing culture. It was a vibrant, chaotic time, and this book completely immerses the reader in it all. 

2) Art themes also abound in this story, focusing especially on the pre-Raphaelite movement. Through Vicky’s connection to art, broader social themes of the time are further explored. I found the history of the art movement at this time to be fascinating. 

2) Identity. Vicky is struggling to find her place between the wishes of her wealthy, traditional parents and her own desires and ideas for her life. I loved this tension in the novel and how it played out throughout the story. It certainly causes Vicky to get herself in some sticky situations. I also enjoyed the romance in the story that came out of this. I really liked Will a lot. Though this book introduces a mild love triangle, it's more one of convenience and circumstance than feelings. It also works well in this story and further illustrates Vicky's inner struggle for identity. I never felt truly threatened by it, although I don't think Vicky always handled everything as well as she should have. That leads me to 

What I didn't like as much:

When I read historical fiction, I automatically think a lot about whether real people at that time period would think and act this way, and usually that is where my biggest struggle with a book happens. I will admit to sometimes over think about this question, but it does affect my reading.

1) Character complexity. I had a bit of trouble with the characterization of Vicky, especially her strange mix of being a very progressive thinker and extremely clueless about any sort of societal norms. Did she learn nothing at that finishing school? As much as she's a modern girl and the daughter of new money, she still was raised in a classed society. I could not believe that she'd have zero clue about what marriage contracts meant at that time, how her relationship with Will would have looked to the outside world, or even how he'd be perceiving their relationship. I also couldn't believe that he didn't foresee some of the obstacles that came between them. I thought Vicky was consistent in her behavior, but I had a hard time believing that a real girl in her time period and class would make some of the mistakes that she does. 

2) Believable reactions. I also thought the reactions to Vicky's nude modeling were too black and white. All of the older, traditional people were completely against it, which made sense, of course. However, Vicky could not understand why her parents would be upset at her for it. My parents would have struggled if they'd found out I'd been doing nude modeling as a teenager. The fact that she didn't consider that, made no sense to me. Alternatively, every progressive thinker (i.e. people sympathetic to suffrage) automatically accepted it, even if they'd had no prior experience with the art form.  I was especially surprised that Will didn't have any hesitations at all. It seems like something he would have at least had to warm up to, seeing as he didn't have any previous experience in the art culture. I'm likely way over thinking this, but it is something that pulled me away from the authenticity of the characters. 

A Mad, Wicked Folly is a great story over all, set in an exciting time period. I especially loved all of the well researched history, and references to the suffrage movement and art culture at the time. I wasn't sure all of Vicky's behavior matched a girl of her time period, but overall I enjoyed her journey throughout this book, and I think this is an excellent debut novel.

Love Triangle Factor: Mild
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone 


  1. Lauren, I remember we discussed this extensively and I feel the exact same way about it as you. Unfortunately a few of these plot points decreased the character authenticity and I remember wanting a much more gradual growth arc for Vicky, particularly as she abruptly reaches a different state by the end of the book, but I enjoyed it regardless. I'm looking forward to whatever this author chooses to write next, especially since the historical components of this novel simply shone. Fantastic review, dear!

  2. Vicky frustrated me because of her naivety, especially since she was supposed to be such a forward-thinker and so progressive. Hard to be that when you don't really know what's going on around you. The setting was quite unusual for this genre and, for that, I really appreciated this book. Didn't love it but enjoyed and appreciated it.

  3. I've read a lot of positive reviews for this book that have convinced me to read it (I'm not the biggest historical fiction fan but I do read it occasionally). Your thoughts about the reactions to her modeling nude totally make sense to me. Even now, there are so many people who would have problems about that, especially parents and a guy who likes the girl. It still sounds like you enjoyed the book and the fact that it's a stand-alone...that's a plus these days, I'm swimming in series that I can barely keep track of. Great review! ~Pam

  4. I tend to over think too Lauren, so you're not alone! There are just certain books that tend to make me pick them apart a bit more than I do others, and it sounds like this was one of those types of books for you. Some of Vicky's behavior does seem a bit off for the time period, but it seems like you still really enjoyed this one overall, and now that I know some of the things you pointed out up front, they're less likely to bother me. Lovely review as always!

  5. This makes me relieved. I haven't read this one yet and have high hopes, but I like that the positives outweigh the negatives. HOWEVER, the negatives would irritate me. Because like you said, if she's a progressive thinker, wouldn't she realize these things? There are some books that I pick apart to death and I realize it, but I think IT'S THERE. THIS IS A FLAW. But others, I'm like eh, whatever. I keep telling myself to not be so critical, but I like it when others are critical because it shows me what I need to realize. Happy that you enjoyed it overall! Love the review :)

  6. I can't wait to read this. I don't think that I read enough historical fiction and I love that it's set in London. I was intrigued by the premise and even though you had some issues, I feel still that excitement to read it. I love the fact that it feels well researched although there's some believability issues. Great review!

    Aly @ My Heart Hearts Books

  7. Believability can factor highly into enjoyment of a story. It does seem a little weird that her love interest wouldn't have a problem with her posing nude. And very unbelievable that she would be shocked by her parents reaction. Just as your parents would have a hard time, my parents would probably rocket out to lower earth orbit if I posed nude, and I'm a grown married woman with kids of my own. Oh, geez, my kids would have a coronary! Lol! Great review, Lauren! :)

  8. I loved the art and the setting as well. I also loved the girl power moments in the book and the mini history lesson on the Women's Suffrage movement in England. I think I was able to get past some of he issues you had in the book with believable reactions but I do agree that I would have liked more character complexity all around, especially with Will and Edmund. Great review--glad you enjoyed the parts that you did, L:)

  9. Everyone seems to have loved this one, especially how well-researched it seems to be. That has me excited about reading it, but I also have to take into account the fact that I, too, tend to over-analyze whether a character in a historical novel would act a certain way. I'm still very intrigued by this story, though.

  10. Your paragraph on character complexity. YES. I didn't mention that explicitly in my review, but I completely agree with what you're saying there. I don't necessarily view myself as an over-analyzer when it comes to historical anachronisms with character development/actions, but it definitely did bother me in this case.
    I am a bit surprised the romance didn't bother you more. As you said, it's not really a love triangle, but I couldn't help but feel as though Vicky was using Will the whole time and I was not a fan haha.
    I do understand why you'd enjoy the positive aspects that you mentioned. I did enjoy them too, so I do think I'll give Waller's next book a try. Hopefully she writes a more time-period-appropriate character. :)


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