Thursday, 19 March 2015

Wasp or a very sweet power by Ian Garbutt

review by Maryom

Disgraced governess Bethany Harris has been hidden away in The Comfort House - a madhouse in all but name - by her employer to avoid scandal. Expecting to never leave its hellish cells, she's surprised to be 'rescued' and taken to The House of Masques, an elite escort agency that specialises in sophisticated girls, trained in the social graces, for company at dinner, afternoon tea or even a walk in the park. Here Bethany finds a community of lost and fallen women governed strictly by the Abbess, and her two male assistants, former doctor The Fixer and escaped slave Kingfisher. The Abbess's hold is starting to slip though with age and others are trying to turn the affairs of the House, with its unique access to politicians and businessmen, to their own advantage....

Set in an anonymous mid eighteenth century city, Wasp is a tale of the demi-monde world of courtesans and prostitutes, exploring the contradiction of their lives - that while the women are highly desirable accessories, conferring a certain social status on their 'employers', they would never be allowed to share their lives.

I hadn't quite known what to expect when I started reading but soon found myself rather enjoying it. It's not a quick-paced read but rather a slow mulling over of things which drops in and out of the present to uncover the past lives of these girls and the men that supervise them; the plot really seems subordinate to an exploration of personalities and motives. All of the characters have been damaged by life and circumstances, and the House of Masques in part offers a refuge and a place to heal, even as it 'trades' in the girls as a business commodity.

The ending led me to wonder if the stage was being set for a sequel - I'd certainly be interested in reading a further chapter of Bethany's life.

Maryom's review - 4 stars  
Publisher - Polygon 
Genre - historical fiction

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