Publisher: No Exit Press
Publication Date: 21st March 2019
The Conviction Of Cora Burns is all kinds of the type of historical fiction I absolutely ADORE. Asylum’s, workhouses, prison’s, poverty, social experiments and secrets.
Just the kind of story to get my historical fiction juices flowing!
1800’s Birmingham and Cora Burns has a less than auspicious entrance into the world. Born in a gaol, her mother Mary Burns incarcerated, Cora is destined for a life of institutions.
The book opens with Cora’s imminent release from prison, her crime as yet unrevealed. On the day of her release she is passed a note of details of a position of between-maid at The Larches, the house of Mr Thomas Jerwood. Although Cora would much prefer a life of freedom she has no money and very little choice but to accept the position. In any case, Cora is determined to locate her childhood friend from the workhouse, Alice Salt, a girl who she grew very close to but lost touch with.
When she arrives at The Larches She settles in quite quickly to her role as ‘tweeny’ maid due to her previous experience in her various institutions, the workhouse, the asylum and the gaol. Cora is not afraid of hard work. However, when her employer, Thomas Jerwood asks her to help him with a social experiment involving a young girl named Violet who also resides at The Larches, Cora is dubious but agrees to assist, but what secrets will Cora uncover and what will she discover about herself and her past in doing so?
This book has myriad different fascinating threads all expertly weaved into a gripping piece of historical fiction. First up we have Cora’s start in life and how she came to be born in a gaol. We then have the close friendship between Alice and Cora in the workhouse as children. A very odd relationship in which the girls are bound very closely together in their own world. Isolating themselves from others and pushing the boundaries of their friendship to ever more risky levels. When a particularly harrowing event occurs within the workhouse with Cora at the centre, her life takes an unexpected turn. I found this part particularly difficult to read, it made me very uncomfortable but I couldn’t look away.
A similarly horrifying event befalls Cora during her time in the local asylum, however this is slowly drip fed detail by detail throughout the story until the full extent is sadly revealed.
The most fascinating element for me is the main thread of the story surrounding the social experiment that is being undertaken at The Larches by Thomas Jerwood. He is studying the effects of nature versus nurture on people’s social status and the story is interspersed with various research documents and findings, an element I really enjoyed reading.
I am loathe to give away any more details of the plot as I think this is a book which needs to be discovered and savoured by the reader. I will just say that Cora is such a gutsy, brave and fiercely determined young lady, the word ‘conviction’ in the book’s title takes on a new important meaning towards the end. Cora has lived out her entire life in institutions and is desperate to find her independence and freedom whilst unravelling her true heritage. She is more or less out there on her own but she has such grit and determination to turn her life around and face the demons of her past.
This is a debut novel but it really does not feel like it one iota. I am always so full of admiration for authors who can produce a work of historical fiction so richly woven with period detail and grim gothic atmosphere. The sheer amount of research that must be carried out to get the facts just right is to be much admired. Carolyn Kirby is an author I will most definitely be looking out for in the future.
Thank you as always to the publisher for the advanced review copy.
See you soon.
Amanda – Bookish Chat xx