Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Michael Joseph
First Published: February 2011
First Lines: "London, 1910 - You must be a whore. You live in a brothel!"
Book Description from GoodReads: London 1910 -- Fifteen year-old Belle has lived in a brothel in Seven Dials all her life, with no understanding of what happens in the rooms upstairs. But her innocence is shattered when she witnesses the murder of one of the girls and, subsequently snatched from the streets by the killer, she is sold into prostitution in Paris.
No longer mistress of her own fate, Belle is blown across the globe to sensuous New Orleans where she comes of age and learns to enjoy life as a courtesan. Yet thoughts of home - and the knowledge her status as golden girl cannot last - compel her to break out of her gilded cage.
But Belle finds escaping tougher than she imagined, for her life is threatened by desperate men who crave her beauty and attention. Armed only with resourcefulness and spirit, she has a long and dangerous journey ahead of her.
Will courage be enough to sustain her? Can she make it back to her family and friends and find her chance at true happiness?
My Review: I had high hopes for this book based on the description on the book jacket and a recommendation from a library customer. Belle is a historical fiction read set in England and the US in the early 1900's that delves into the seedy underbelly of prostitution, human trafficking and the life of a teen girl who gets caught up in it. I was itching for a good, intense historical saga and I figured this was it. And it almost was. Almost.
This was a good read but I wouldn't say it was great. It kept my interest throughout but there were a couple of things that stopped me from giving this book a higher rating. First of all, while the storyline (which, at times, was predictable) kept my interest the writing itself was weak and overly simplistic with the dialogue between the characters being bland and simple.
While this book dealt with serious issues I still consider this a light historical fiction read. I say light because it wasn't as dark, gritty or emotional a read as I was expecting considering the dark subject matter (and pretty graphic sexual scenes). I had a hard time believing that Belle could endure the physical and emotional abuse she suffered only to almost embrace her new profession and come out of the whole affair fairly unscathed. This left her as a very flat and unconvincing main character. I suppose one could argue that she was suddenly empowered, resilient and made the best out of a horrible situation but it just didn't ring true for me.
Secondly, the characters were okay but could have been improved with better dialogue and some more back stories on them. Belle herself wasn't a strong main character and often frustrated me with her decisions - especially when she eagerly divulged her past to people she barely knew time after time ... and paid the price each time. I realize she's only fifteen at the beginning of the book but with the life experiences she has thrust at her she still comes off as overly naïve and juvenile. The other characters didn't undergo much development but were colourful enough to make the storyline interesting.
That's not to say that this book wasn't interesting with all of its twists and turns. And boy were there a lot of twists which made me want to see how Belle's life would turn out. I do think that the story could have been whittled down a hundred pages or so and that would have helped the overall flow of the book.
Overall, this was a good light read for historical fiction buffs. For fans of this book the second book in the series, The Promise, continues to follow Belle's life.
My Rating: 3/5 stars