Sadie Appleby has lived all her life in her small village. One night she is rudely awoken by her older and bolder sister, Ella, who has robbed her employer and is on the run. The girls flee their rural home of Westmorland to head for London, hoping to lose themselves in the teeming city. But the dead man’s relatives are in hot pursuit, and soon a game of cat and mouse begins.
Ella becomes obsessed with the glitter and glamour of city life and sets her sights on the flamboyant man-about-town, Jay Whitgift. But nothing is what it seems – even Jay Whitgift.
Can Sadie survive a fugitive’s life in the big city? But even more pressing, can she survive life with her older sister Ella?
Set in London’s atmospheric coffee houses, the rich mansions of Whitehall, and the pawnshops, slums and rookeries hidden from rich men’s view, The Gilded Lily is about beauty and desire, about the stories we tell ourselves, and about how sisterhood can be both a burden and a saving grace.
“There is no greater compliment than ‘Give me more!’ A delight.” Susanna Gregory
“The Gilded Lily is impeccably written historical fiction. The detail is superb and life in London is so vividly depicted that the city seems to take on its own persona and become a lurking character in the story.” Let Them Read Books
“Where the author excels is in making the reader care for the two girls… I thoroughly enjoyed this tale that explored the darker side of Restoration London.” Historical Tapestry
“A heart-rending story of two sisters on the run, searching for a better life. Beautifully written and meticulously researched, the novel drew me straight into the teeming streets of Restoration London. An addictive, page-turning read.” Mary Sharratt
“The plot is gripping with plenty of twists and turns to keep readers interested. The characters are beautifully developed and three-dimensional. Each character has their own struggles to overcome as circumstances force them to do things and change in ways they would never have dreamed of…I highly recommend this book and look forward to reading Deborah Swift’s next.” History and Women
“Superb dialogue, steeped in contemporary language, adds credibility and atmosphere to this compelling tale which examines the ties that bind together siblings, the consequences of greed and ambition, the fickleness of fate and women’s constant battle to survive in a man’s world. The Gilded Lily is also a fast-paced adventure peopled with ruthless villains and feisty heroines whose exploits grab the imagination and add suspense and excitement to a historical gem.” Lancashire Evening Post
Reading Group Questions for The Gilded Lily
How are Sadie and Ella different from each other? Does their relationship to each other alter, and did your sympathies for them change through the book?
- Titus Ibbetson says his mother referred to him as “the roguish one who would get himself into trouble,” whereas his brother was spoken of as “the good one.” Amongst you and your siblings have you ever felt you have been cast into a particular role by your parents? How does this theme play out in the book?
- The book starts with a quotation from a fairy tale. Ella and Sadie refer often to stories they have been told as children. To what extent do fairy tales affect their perception of the world? How strong is the influence of childhood stories in your life?
- As a reaction to the end of Puritan rule, the world of Restoration London is dominated by fashion and beauty. How does Sadie, whose appearance is at odds with the prevailing standard, change and adapt to life in London? How important is the character of Dennis to this process? Have ideas of beauty changed over time?
- There are several burglaries in the novel. Did you have sympathy for the victims in all the cases? If not, why not? How much is greed a theme of the book?
- Discuss what the character of Jay Whitgift brings to the novel. Does he evoke your sympathy at all?
- The extreme weather of the Little Ice Age in Europe forms the background for much of the book. Have you experienced severe winters, and what was their effect on you and your community? To what extent is the weather symbolic, and how is it integral to the plot?
- Ella often tells Sadie lies – she says that “with Ella, the truth moved about, like tussocks on shifting sand.” Is there a difference between a story and a lie? Have you ever told a deliberate lie for a particular purpose? Does the truth “move about” depending on the point of view?
- Dennis tells Sadie a story handed down to him by his father which explains why he did not fight in the English Civil War. Dennis says that you cannot hate someone when you know their story. Is this true in Ella’s case? Do you have more sympathy with her behaviour because you know a little about her past?
- Could this story have taken place in any other place or period? If so, when? What common features does the period of the English 17th century share with your home? Can you picture Ella and Sadie in a big city today – for example New York or London – and would they fare differently?