The London of Laura Shepherd Robinson
Blood Sugar and Daughters of Night set in Georgian London
Laura Shepherd Robinson won the Historical Writers Award for her novel Blood and Sugar in 2019. I was one of the judges and it was a sure win for this book. An assured debut and a novel that not only transports you to London in 1781 but dumps you right in the Deptford Dock where much of the action is set.
“London, 1781. An investigation into a gruesome murder on the Deptford Docks leads to a dark secret that could change the very core of British society…”
The novel is set largely at the Docks and is a handy guide to the dirty streets, cobbled alley ways and dank river bends of London at the time. A beguiling insight into the slave trade and those who work in it and those who have to suffer it.
The Cutty Sark – the eponymous ship that used to speed tea from Asia to Victorian Britain is definitely worth a visit when you are booktrailing this area.
Laura uses this area to showcase the poverty and wealth living side by side at the time, The mayor lives on the outskirts of Deptford Broadway in a posh home. Just feet away lies the Deptford docks of the slave trade, the poverty and trading area of the time:
“The Dockside slums were a disconcerting prospect after dark. A maze of narrow alleys leached down to the pier, jostling with brothels and gin shops and tumbledown lodgings. Attic storeys pressed on overhead, blocking out the night sky, blocking out the night sky, echoing to the sound of Deptford Life. Men talking and laughing in voices ragged with drink.”
The level of detail and immersion into this way of life and city’s trade paints an evocative picture. The author has carefully done her research and expertly crafts the information into her novel. It’s like a picture, with layers of paint, expert brush strokes to create a historical masterpiece. You need a wash when you’ve finished reading, it’s that realistic.
This is the wonderful and equally evocative sequel to Blood and Sugar. We go back to London a year after the events of that book and straight into the brothels and gin-shops of Covent Garden. This is again a London of two sides with the elegant houses of Mayfair not far away.
The real location here is Vauxhall Gardens which is at the centre of the story. I found this fascinating as you find out lots about its history. From 1785 to 1859, this site was one of the leading venues for public entertainment in London. It was a popular spot for walks and the Vauxhall Bridge, built in 1810s really opened it up to even more people. Crowds would come and there were shows, hot air balloons and the garden really was on the map!
You get to travel back in time to see this in the novel. That is the amazingly detailed and atmospheric setting of the story. A woman is found murdered here, but when the police find out she was a high class prostitute, they don’t seem to care.
Don’t forget to visit the area of Bow Street – Bow Street where the Magistrates and runners in the novel (and in real life) are based.
It’s a human and heartfelt story in a world of amazement and vice. Totally captivating and wonderful to experience.
I read a LOT of historical fiction and this author is right up there on my ‘ones to watch’ list. I swear Laura has a time machine as she sees things so clearly and so vividly, you are there with her every step of the way.
Beautifully crafted and a top class reading experience with wonderfully complex characters and enough history and atmosphere to make you forget where you are – until you close the book.