Sparrow Falling is the follow up novel to Evvie Duchen’s first adventurous outing, Shanghai Sparrow, from author Gaie Sebold, and it starts an indeterminate amount of time after the end of the first novel.
In Sparrow Falling we return to the school for girls that Evvie Duchen (Now Sparrow) set up with the riches she gained at the end of the first book. Unfortunately the money has dried up and Evvie is struggling to keep the school running with the tuition paid by the few parents who could afford it. With a growing number of hard-luck students getting their education for free (although, with the only teachers mentioned being Evvie, her best friend, her mother and her former Fagin esque `guardian` I’m not entirely sure what there is for parents to pay for anyway).
Title: Sparrow Falling
Author: Gaie Sebold
Published: 11th August 2016
With money tight Evvie sets about starting a business for herself in order to support the school, unfortunately no matter how `alternative` a dimension this Victorian era England, is Evvie still has to struggle against prejudice against women. Much like the overarching theme of Shanghai Sparrow being “Don’t under estimate women and girls, they can science too” in Sparrow Falling we get a heavy sense of “Don’t underestimate women and girls, they can run a business too” – both of which are completely true, but Sebold goes about highlighting in a way that is sometimes heavy handed and did, at times, slow down the plot or even get totally in its way. There are only so many times one can read various characters saying things along the lines of “A woman? Pah! Women are silly creatures to be seen and not heard” – the `show don’t tell` formula gets forgotten many times, which between Shanghai Sparrow and Sparrow Falling, is the major impression one takes away whilst reading. I mentally dubbed Shanghai Sparrow as “Exposition! The novel” and although Sparrow Falling relied less on pointlessly long flash backs, backstory or the reader just blatantly being told information by the characters, the book did get bogged down by these issues a few times which really detracted from the story.
Although Sebold’s use of referencing the previous adventure or the heroine’s backstory multiple times does mean that a reader can pick up Sparrow Falling without having read Shanghai Sparrow first, and maybe only struggle a little bit with getting into the story. In Sparrow Falling the story does move along at a much better pace and the crux of why the story is happening gets to the reader with a lot less excruciatingly unimportant detail and fiddly little chapters that could have been done in a few paragraphs. Readers get a handle on the situation facing Evvie a lot faster, and the plot evolves with less jump cut narrative than the first book.
Sebold also shows how much Evvie has grown as a character in and of herself with more finesse, and readers will really get a sense of how the young woman has progressed in her own real terms as a person, but also how her experiences have shaped her as a protagonist. It was incredibly interesting to see how Evvie’s responses to various dilemmas and interpersonal relationships has changed since we met her as an uncouth pickpocket from the gutters of London, who thought only of herself and the immediate consequences to her actions. Sparrow Falling presents us with an Evvie who hasn’t forgotten who she is or where she came from, but also understands that changes must be made and long term thinking becomes key for not only her but those for who she now finds herself responsible. How she interacts with others and the internal dialogue we encounter has matured and adds an interesting new depth to the character.
Following the style she established in Shanghai Sparrow, Sebold uses an interesting narrative device of switching between encountering the world as Evvie and progressing the plot as the more villainous characters take the reader on a journey through the story from their perspective. This worked incredibly well with the first book’s antagonist who, at first, you have a feeling of `is he, isn’t he` when trying to determine if he truly is the main evil in the story. I am already predisposed to liking the antihero, and Holmforth pretty much ticked all my requirements – I would happily read any further books that detail his return. He was a genuinely complex bastard and you end the book almost kind of sorry for him after you find out more about the reasons behind his actions. In Sparrow Falling you experience a little less through the eyes of the novel’s antagonist and you know straight away how much you dislike him. I didn’t root for him at all and what he does gave me the creeps (I still really like this – I greatly enjoy a character you can out and out hate and despise). Sebold seems to have a knack for writing the darker characters, the ones who don’t see what they do as being evil, in essence, and therefore fight all the harder to win.
One thing you can say for Sebold is that she is a writer who knows how to research and gain a great working knowledge of what she’s writing about. Her understanding of Victorian London, both in its geographical and social-economic history, really shines through and unlike the exposition, her working of this knowledge into the story doesn’t slow the story down. You easily get transported into the steampunk and faery version of England and never struggle to understand how their mechanical or fae differences work, which can be a big issue when dealing with one or the other when a writer focuses too much on explaining the how’s and the why’s of their world instead of the story itself.
There are some mature themes in Sparrow Falling and a little bit of `adult` language, as well as what usually gets dubbed `period acceptable racism`, and if you can get over local dialects and accents being written phonetically (which is a personal hate of mine) then I would say this book would be best suited for a teen or young adult reader. It’s a relatively easy, although not simplistic, read and it will spark the imaginations of readers who maybe aren’t quite ready for the heavy tomes of the more advanced fantasy/steampunk/crime thriller genre.
Rating: 3 ½ /5
Reviewer: Fia @madame_fifi