the guardian Fri 03 October 2008
Putrid, smelly, overcrowded Victorian Lambeth; the Necropolitan railway rumbling away in the background; prestigious bookbinding business under threat from tyrannical husband's arthritic fingers; angelic girl child's epilepsy getting worse; debt-collectors breathing down her neck - it seems it's the workhouse or the whorehouse for Dora Damage. Luckily, she's a thoroughly modern, feisty sort and, despite being a woman, takes responsibility for the family business upon herself. Thus begins a Dickensian web of intrigue and lies involving black ex-slaves with workmanship to die for, erotic books with descriptions that would make your eyes water, ex-working girls with hearts of gold and sex-slave parties for Victorian nobility. All the elements are there to make Belinda Starling's posthumously published debut an entertaining addition to the trend for Victorian-era literature. But for me her London never came to life, her feminist message was delivered as subtly as a whip at an orgy and the narrative confused without gripping.