Monday, September 23, 2019

Christmas Child, by Carol Rivers

Carol Rivers, September 2019

In London, on Christmas Day 1880, Colleen O'Reilly gets herself to the door of the convent and orphanage of the Sisters of Clemency with her newborn baby girl, and dies. The nuns who comforted her in her last hours raise her daughter, Henrietta. But fourteen years later, the convent in completely broke, and there's a new bishop in charge who isn't anything like the caring, old bishop who recently died. It's not long before the convent is closed and the remaining orphans dispersed to whatever homes could be found for them. Henrietta, or Ettie as she is called, is relatively fortunate. She is sent to serve as a maid to tobacconist Lucas Benjamin and his wife, Clara.

Ettie is smart and hardworking, and too ready to blame herself for whatever goes wrong. Since this is a Victorian moral tale in the fine old tradition, there's a lot that goes wrong, but Ettie keeps soldiering on through all of it, always trying to do the right thing.

I really like Ettie and many of the people around her, including Lucas Benjamin, Terence the butcher, Mrs. Bullock, Arthur the old gardener at the convent, and others. Other characters are truly wicked, like the master and matron at the workhouse, while still others are just normal, imperfect people in a society that doesn't encourage them to see the poor as simply less fortunate. In some respects, the story is unexpectedly honest about what was wrong with the greatest city in the world in the 1880s and 1890s, when the British Empires was at its height. In other ways--for sure someone is looking out for Ettie.

Her dear friend from the orphanage, Michael Wilson, the other older orphan, disappears just before she and the other orphans actually get dispersed to their new homes and jobs, and it's more than a year before she even has another glimpse of him. After he said she was his girl, forever, she fears now that he's forgotten her. What's happened to Michael is an ongoing worry for her, even as she worries about the people more immediately present in her life, and even herself, as one seemingly safe haven after another evaporates for her.

If you like Victorian moral tales, which I do sometimes, this is a pretty good one.


I received a free electronic galley from the publisher, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

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