If you're a fan of historical fiction, and love Belinda Alexandra and Natasha Lester, you're in for a treat. Debut author Tania Farrelly transports us to the Gilded Age and sets a glamorous stage for this heartrending tale with all the accoutrements of the era. The beautiful imagery and clarity of expression in the prose is a pure delight to read, sweeping us into the world of wide-eyed dilettantes during the glory days of prosperous New York.
Feisty protagonist, Rose Kingsbury-Smith, harbours the desire for a career as an architect like her adored father, Arthur— and her idol, Emily Roebling, the engineer who completed the Brooklyn Bridge. The story begins on this bridge, with an incident from Rose's childhood. It introduces us to Daisy, a memorable Coney Island circus elephant, and the handsome and enigmatic Ethan Salt, the man with a menagerie of rescued ex-performing animals. Rose makes a lasting impression on both man and elephant.
Well-known moguls of the era, such as Morgan and Carnegie, are mere background characters in this colourful adventure. Spirited Rose faces the restrictions of her sex and battles the limitations that New York society places on women of her position. Following the theft of her family's most valuable jewel, Rose is courted by the city's most eligible bachelor. But while marriage will save her family and her inheritance, Rose struggles with adhering to the expectations for women that would spell an end to her burgeoning career. In the meantime, she is drawn to a cause defending the rights and livelihoods of women from the Lower East Side tenements– those working for a meagre wage and fighting their own battles in a system weighted to advantage the city's wealthy landlords.
The relationship between our protagonist and her father portrays touching sensitivity and intimacy. So, too, the richly drawn relationships between the female characters of her acquaintance are sympathetic and convincing. The entire gamut of emotions will have you flying through the pages. The narrative is a wonder of nuanced yet vivid language, offering poignant depth splashed with delightful description. Every page is a delicious escape into another world.
As Rose pursues the desire to design the buildings she dreams of, her resilience is sorely tested. Rose's society-driven mother proves to be a fly in the ointment, while men from different sides of the tracks each have an agenda concerning Rose's future. I found myself urging her on, as determined to make her own choices, Rose is challenged to overcome the many hurdles of the time.
Tania Farrelly is a terrific new talent and a beautiful storyteller. She is also a graduate of the Fiona McIntosh Commercial Fiction Masterclass— Fiona’s stamp of approval is quoted on the cover. The Eighth Wonder is just as promised by the author extraordinaire—‘I was hooked from the first page' too.