A Mad, Wicked Folly: review

February 4, 2014 2014, 4 star books, historical, K. 45 ★★★★

A Mad, Wicked Folly: reviewA Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller
Published by Viking on January 23, 2014
Pages: 448
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Welcome to the world of the fabulously wealthy in London, 1909, where dresses and houses are overwhelmingly opulent, social class means everything, and women are taught to be nothing more than wives and mothers. Into this world comes seventeen-year-old Victoria Darling, who wants only to be an artist—a nearly impossible dream for a girl.

After Vicky poses nude for her illicit art class, she is expelled from her French finishing school. Shamed and scandalized, her parents try to marry her off to the wealthy Edmund Carrick-Humphrey. But Vicky has other things on her mind: her clandestine application to the Royal College of Art; her participation in the suffragette movement; and her growing attraction to a working-class boy who may be her muse—or may be the love of her life. As the world of debutante balls, corsets, and high society obligations closes in around her, Vicky must figure out: just how much is she willing to sacrifice to pursue her dreams?

I’m sure you’ve seen this cover making its round in the book community. Even I find it quite catching, and I’ve been known to criticize a YA cover once or twice…or most-times. But that’s beside the point. What I want to say is that I think Sharon Biggs Waller’s A Mad, Wicked Folly deserves popularity.

Because, truly, if one’s decision whether or not to read a book is based on synopsis alone this book would’ve been discarded easily. The premise promises drama and opulence to some, monotony and exasperation to others. It promises nothing more than what we’ve all read before: a girl trying to defy her circumstances, a girl with morals, goals, and personality. But they’re always a let down. Not here. Not Victoria Darling. Not Sharon Biggs Waller.

A Mad, Wicked Folly is a historical young adult fiction that does its job; it entertains while imparting knowledge. Victoria introduces us to art, Pre-Raphaelite art in particular. Through her artist’s eyes, she shows us the beauty and technique in painting. She shows us how to look at a painting. That right there, I haven’t felt from a YA book in a long time.

Take A Mermaid, for example. An iridescent painting by John William Waterhouse. A familiar painting to myself but with Victoria, I learned where to look, how to look and what to make of what I saw. I found myself googling the painting, zooming in and out of focus trying to see what she felt. If that’s not compelling writing, I don’t know what is. The passion is there, coursing through the author into her character and into the reader.

Another fascination of Waller’s is history. This novel is set at the turn of the 20th century. England. Now, if you watch Downton Abbey, you’ll know all about the remarkable changes occurring during this period. If not — why aren’t you? It’s astonishing that women’s suffrage (just another way to mean women’s right to vote) has only been around for a century or so. Literally just a couple of blocks down the timeline and women of then were so unjustifiably limited. There was already a subway station for crying out loud!

Victoria is originally mixed in with a group of suffragettes, a huge misunderstanding. She wants to focus on art, not politics. But as she tries harder and harder to make her artistic dream come true, the more she bumps into strictures. And more and more, her creative aims are tied tighter with those of the female protesters. Victoria slowly realizes how all the suffocations of life have been because of her sex. How freedom in one area of life is not enough. How it must be freedom in whole.

Victoria is illustrated as passionate, ambitious and determined. I’m glad to say she stays that way. She is not swayed easily, distracted often. Her focus is straight and unrelenting. More importantly, she never forgets herself. Not in a selfish, self-absorbed way. But in the way of never losing one’s identity and aspirations.

There are other things, like, oh, romance. Of course, there is. And it’s nice. The love interest is a dish. The relationship is believable; it develops in a timely fashion; and there is a genuine connection. Victoria makes friends with the suffragettes who are based on real people and some of them sparkle.

The writing is wonderful. It uses dialogue extremely well; relying on the characters to tell the story rather than the author scrawling endless descriptions which readers are made to swallow. Characters have personality! I rarely laugh out loud but there were some very funny quips that made me actually LOL.

A negative? Well, maybe because this book does take on some heavy issues, it did sometimes border on preachy; a little too repetitive. But that’s a faint negative. Also some weird phrasing; some sentences sounding off. Again, small complaint. The ending? While, I did find it a tiny bit preposterous — a little hard to believe — I appreciated it. It was brave in more ways than one.

If only all YA books were this easy to read and review. Sharon Biggs Waller’s A Mad, Wicked Folly is a wonderful treat. Pretty on the outside, beautiful on the inside. Likeable characters, good plot. Respect is given to history. This is an ode to art and justice.

This review also appears on Goodreads. An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.

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45 Responses to “A Mad, Wicked Folly: review”

  1. Leah

    So excited to read your review. This is already on my to read list, but I love hearing more about how much the art plays a role in the book…and that it made you actually go and look at the paintings! I work in an art museum, so I can’t help but love that detail.

  2. Sophia D

    Definitely going on my TBR list…..love the cover and storyline is intriguing.

  3. Wendy @ Book Scents

    I’ve been looking forward to this one for awhile! I’m currently on a book buying ban but this is the one I told myself I can buy once my ban ends! I used to love historical fiction and haven’t read much of it in awhile and really want to start reading more of it! Plus, I don’t think I’ve read any books with women’s suffrage as a topic actually and I think it’d be really interesting, esp with an MC that sounds amazing! I can’t wait. :)
    Wendy @ Book Scents recently posted…TTT: Top Ten Books That Make Me Cry!

    • K.

      Oh wow, there are so many great books out there it would be hard for me to pick ONE book to buy above all. But I sure hope this doesn’t disappoint! I haven’t come across a YA that discusses womne’s suffrage either, I don’t think. Certainly not into so much detail as this. It really is quite informative. Plus, I forgot to mention, that at the end of the book, there’s a really great Notes section where Waller explains a little more the topics she raises. Handy!

    • Wendy Darling

      Quickie note: I don’t think there are many books, particularly YA books, on women’s suffrage either. But apparently Cat Winters’ next book is set during this time period and releases later this year. Her debut in 2013 was In the Shadow of the Blackbirds, of course.

      Wendy, if you also like historical fantasies, there are a couple of really good ones out soon–THE WINNER’S CURSE, which we’re reviewing tomorrow, and TSARINA, reviewing later this month!

    • K.

      Thanks, Keertana! I’m so glad you loved the book, too. I hold your thoughts and opinion in high regard so if you like it, I figure it must be good :)

  4. Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

    What a terrific review! You completely sold me with the two paragraphs on art — especially the sentence “The passion is there, coursing through the author into her character and into the reader.” YES. That’s what I want when I read. This is going on my TBR list, and not at the end, either.
    Lark @ The Bookwyrm’s Hoard recently posted…The Month of Letters Challenge

    • K.

      I think so far this book has had very good reviews…some luke warm but nothing at all scathing, which is really hopeful. I love historical fics, I’m always on the look out for great ones. This one impressed me :)

  5. Literary Lottie

    I’m glad to hear this book lives up to its fabulous cover. I love YA historicals but it’s hard to find ones that don’t romanticize the past.

    • K.

      Exactly! So many books just focus on the “lushness” of the period and take so many liberties that even a person who isn’t as familiar with the time would find it a little perplexing.

    • K.

      I just want to say that, of course, these aren’t perfect novels and in a way I’m romanticizing them a bit even, but considering how some YAs out there are just bad — nay, sometimes offensively so — when I come across something like this, I just can’t help it.

      Yes, there were a few more negatives than I mentioned but I really wanted people to read it so I decided to just focus on the positives.

  6. Kate Bond

    Ugh. I love this review.

    I recently read a romance novel about two people in the wild west who were both half black, and I was so excited about it because DIVERSITY, but then half the book is them encountering, like a Chinese person who has to give the entire history of how shitty white people were to their people. For like an entire chapter. Same with Native Americans. And Blacks. And while I think that information is important, the author never actually showed a lot of white people being so super shitty to people of other races, so it was detached from emotion and I kind of skipped over those parts.

    I knew this book would do that a bit, because it’s hard to really get that information across in a way that entertains, but I hope that the suffragette aspects are woven in a bit more seamlessly than what I’ve seen in other stuff…

    • K.

      Compared to what I’ve read in others, I think the limitations in women is definitely apparent in Victoria’s situation. I think its clear but like I said, it tended to get a little preachy…and screechy. Waller also highglights lightly the difference between Victoria’s modern attitude and how difficult it is for her to be herself, and that of her mother who obviously had no choice during her time to be anything than what was laid out before her. The suffragettes are there to offer Victoria hope and its sort of the light at the end of the tunnel.

  7. Larissa

    Yay! I’m so glad you enjoyed this book, I read it a little bit ago and quite loved it too (: Only had a few minor quibbles. I really did enjoy reading about the time period and the main character.

    Great review!

    • K.

      I’m loving this period more and more actually. I’m thinking if picking up more books in this setting. I’m glad enjoyed too!

  8. Jasprit

    This is another book which I didn’t pay much attention to when I first saw it around, I think I was quick to fob it off as not being my sort of read, but you’ve put forward many great reasons why this book could actually work for me K. I like my books being pretty believable, when they have a strong MC and most of all when they’re a lot of fun. I think you’ve certainly convinced me to give this book a try soon! Lovely review as always!
    Jasprit recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday #16: Top Ten Books that will make you cry.

    • K.

      Hi, Jasprit :) I think at the very least, this won’t annoy you so much. Thinking about it now, another concern of mine is that there were a few too many coincidences where Victoria is in trouble and is saved or where she’s looking for someone and boom, they’re there. Again, though, I just breezed through this because I wanted to know what was going to happen. I hope you do like it!

  9. Neyra

    I actually haven’t seen this book at all. I’m glad you pointed it out though, it sounds interesting and I’m glad the heroine stays the same throughout. I’m not much of a historical romance reader but I might just try this one out. Great review K! :)
    Neyra recently posted…Review: Vengeful in Love by Nadia Lee

    • K.

      Thanks, Neyra. I’m glad I was able to introduce this to you! Now, I hope you’ll read it.

  10. Giselle

    Yes I have seen the cover and it is pretteh! I also have not read the blurb bc I rarely do lol. I like to go into books with no expectations except the reviews I’ve read. Blurbs usually give the wrong expectations or have spoilers (or say too much) and it’s so frustrating! Anyways, glad this one lives up to the hype. It sounds like a very intelligent read, really, and I love to see that in YA novels! I don’t read a lot of historical fiction but this one sounds like it’s worth it with the fantastic writing and romance that sounds refreshing!
    Giselle recently posted…Review: Alienated by Melissa Landers

    • K.

      Omg, Giselle, yes! Synopsis almost always does a disservice to the book, I feel. I can’t count how many books I began to read with rather harsh preconceived notions and then I’m totally blown away. I feel like they all dumb them down so as to appeal to larger mass of buyers who want a light, fun read with no required thinking. It’s sad and as you said frustrating. This one, I can tell you, isn’t as shallow as its blurb makes it out to be — actually, in comparison, this book’s blurb isn’t that bad.

    • K.

      Whenever it’s a period piece, I find many books only paying attention to the fun, pretty side of things but because this period is so full of changes and so many historical things going on, maybe it’s harder to write about? I’m not really sure.

  11. Pili

    Wow, what a fantastic review!! Now after this review and the one at Snuggly Oranges… I know I MUST read this book! Also, with what you’ve told me about art and paintings… I know I must get this one in hardback!
    Thank you so much!
    Pili recently posted…Blog Tour: The Star Thief by Jamie Grey!!

    • K.

      I personally love historical so I’m definitely encouraging you to read more of them :)

    • K.

      I hope this one satisfies your historical fiction craving :) For me, it was quite a pleasant surprise.

  12. Mel@thedailyprophecy

    I love passionate characters and it’s great when books learn you something without making it feel like learning. Victoria sounds like a very good MC and I’m happy that the romance is believable and sweet. I’m very excited to try this book. If it wasn’t for the positive reviews, I think I would have skipped this one – so yeay for the book community.
    Mel@thedailyprophecy recently posted…My blogging methods.

    • K.

      That’s great, Mel. I did become frustrated with Victoria once in a while. She’s a bit naive and stubborn but what will a character grow from if they all make the right choices. We need trouble in fiction, right?

    • Rachel

      I also think there is a general tendency to want YA characters to be a lot more mature and less naïve than actual teens. Which makes sense, but there are all kinds of experiences and I know plenty of naïve teens. But I agree it can be frustrating in a book, especially depending on the book and the character.

      Anyway, I’ll be giving this one a try!

  13. Mary @ BookSwarm

    I enjoyed this book more than I expected but not *quite* as much as I’d hoped. I highly enjoyed the time period, though. It’s not one we visit often, especially in YA, so I really appreciated the unusual setting. Plus, I liked Victoria, though she was a little naive and sheltered, despite her tendencies.
    Mary @ BookSwarm recently posted…Top Off Tuesday and Review: Hot Marine all in green!

    • K.

      I agree with you on Victoria, though I can’t help thinking that no girl in Victoria’s class could help but be sheltered. That was what Victoria was fighting against — she wanted to be free. So I totally took that into stride as it’s important to show just how caged she is, in order for us readers to root for her even more. As for being naive, I think she was, to counter that, a little reckless as well. I mean, deciding on the spot to pose nude? I COULD NEVER!