Disclaimer: This is a review, and as such will contain opinions, spoilers and (often) general shit talking. (If you talk about what you don’t like about a work, you learn a lot. When you think through a work with the stakes presented to you by the creator, by the context of the work, you learn a lot. I review things, not because I love to dislike things, but because dislike contains rich and vital information for the process of experiencing something, but I cannot access it without interrogating it.) So, if you don’t want to have this thing spoiled for you, or don’t know how to behave when a person on the internet, that you don’t know, has opinions that don’t line up with yours, this review is not for you. It’s also not for the author/creator of the work. Please and thank you.

NB: I received a copy of the book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Rambling and not very focused, the book nevertheless gets off to an intriguing start.

However, without names or distinguishing markers for each character, things do get a bit confusing and I didn’t have a super good hold on the characters (especially at the very start).

The rambling style of writing continues throughout the book, at times, saying the same thing over and over and over again without adding anything new.

There were still typos present and the book not edited very well, though this may not be the case in a purchased copy as this read more like an earlier draft of the manuscript.

The lack of effective punctuation makes it difficult to read, and the purple prose often gets in the way of the story itself, without adding anything to the mood or setting. The world building was also confusing at times, and I’m not well versed enough in Northern English history to be able to assess accuracy.

And yet, this was one of those things that kept niggling the back of my mind as I tried to picture the world while reading.

For a small English town in the 1920s, driving to work every day on small town roads was something that had me googling what Morris cars looked like at the time.

In America, the development of the road networks into what they are today (especially in rural areas) took a while and wasn’t fit for more modern vehicles like bicycles or cars until the wealthy started campaigning for it.

Roads weren’t built for cars.

Bicyclists of the League of American Wheelmen pose before the second annual St. Louis County Bicycle Tour, 1892

Back in the 1890s and early 1900s, it was mainly cyclists who first advocated for cities in the US and Europe to pave their streets and build new roads.

As cars became more practical, wealthy, privileged people adopted the car as their leisure toy of choice, and the bicycle’s central place in what’s now called the Good Roads Movement was largely forgotten.

“In the 1880s, the invention of the “safety bicycle” — a new design that incorporated most of the features seen in modern bikes today — made cycling safer and easier than before, and led to a surge of interest in cycling. But there was a problem: in both American cities and in the countryside, most roads were a muddy, rutted mess, suitable for slow-moving horses and carriages but not bicycles.”

— Joseph Stromberg, “Roads were not built for cars”: how cyclists, not drivers, first fought to pave US roads

As with cars, cycling was first mainly a leisure activity for the rich as bicycles were expensive, and the working class simply couldn’t afford them. This small group of essentially white, rich men, included wealthy bicycle manufacturers, who quickly organised to solve this problem of poor roads.

They formed the League of American Wheelmen, and began to produce pamphlets, rallies and ad campaigns to convince working-class citizens, farmers, and politicians that everyone would benefit from better roads.

The cyclist advocates were remarkably successful, getting asphalt manufacturers and other interest groups on board, and even persuading legislatures in New Jersey and New York to spend state money on widening and paving roads for the first time.

By 1910 the League of American Wheelmen had largely died out as they had achieved their goal of better roads. But many of its members joined motorist clubs that quickly formed, especially AAA.

Most of the people selling cars were even former cyclists themselves: Henry Ford, the Dodge brothers, Louis Chevrolet, and the Duryea brothers (founders of the Duryea Motor Wagon Company, the first US company to sell gasoline-powered cars) had all been avid cyclists, bike mechanics, or bicycle manufacturers.

“These early cyclists loved the independence and speed afforded by bicycles. Their bikes allowed them to explore the countryside on their own schedule — not a railroad’s — and show off the fact that they could buy a very expensive gadget. That cycling might be considered a virtuous form of exercise would have probably seemed utterly bizarre to them.”

— Joseph Stromberg, “Roads were not built for cars”: how cyclists, not drivers, first fought to pave US roads

And in 1921, the commercially available cars from Morris I could find were the Bullnoses (1916 and an updated version from 1919). It essentially looks like this:

1913 Morris Oxford 2-seater, W. R. Morris and passenger

I mean, you’re not going off-roading with treads or suspension like that. The particular car was never mentioned, beyond it being a Morris, so I have no context beyond this wild speculation of mine.

“The year is 1921 yet we might still be living in Victorian England she grumbles at every opportunity. She often rants, telling me that since the war women have been firmly put back in their place, when if it wasn’t for their efforts, the country would surely have sunk. The brewery certainly would she says. She’s frustrated Loftus is steadily becoming a land time forgot.”

— “Delfina: A Grown Up Fairytale”, Jo Priestley

The historical aspects were often glossed over, leading me to feeling like it was used more for ambience than based in any real passion of the author, which was a shame.

I went into this book knowing only that it was advertised as “an adult fairy tale” and I was unsure whether that meant horror/thriller or smut up until the very end. And even once everything was said and done, I still wasn’t all that sure.

I think it’s intended to be suspenseful, but the individual parts don’t add up to a cohesive whole.

This isn’t smutty in the least and the love story was okay, but on the whole this reads like someone’s Dear Diary (had it been written as such, I’d have enjoyed it more and it would have clarified some of the continuity issues).

As the elements of the mystery were introduced through the book, I was more confused than intrigued. This was most likely due to the copious amounts of description (when I would rather have been reading dialogue) and the dialogue reading stiff and stuffy (and not in the right way).

There’s some jumping back and forth in time which I found didn’t add anything to the mystery, mostly just added to the confusion.

Did I enjoy it?

While there were some good moments, on the whole, I found the book often boring and struggled to get through it even though it’s a relatively short book.

Though I felt like there was a story in there somewhere, the characters didn’t feel well-rounded and their relationships made them feel more like plot devices than real people.

For this to have been the coming-of-age story advertised on the tin, I would have like to have seen more visceral writing and developed dialogue, relying less on such heavy descriptions. While I did understand that the main character did live with regret, I didn’t really feel it.

And all this for it only to be wrapped up super neatly in the end only felt like it trivialised the trauma, guilt and regret of the main character.

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