Review: the neo-Victorian novel ‘We Are Villains All’

20th November 2015
Here is my review of author Kirsty Stonell Walker's 2nd novel which was published recently.

The story opens in the quite English village of Daneburton in the year 1890, the main protagonist being a gentleman by the name of Maxwell (or Max) Wainwright, a poet of some standing. We meet him firstly as a mature individual, well-established in his community, but we also get to follow him as a much younger man via chapters that describe events thirty years previous.

These retrospective episodes from Max's history are important to the development of the main story. And the action switches back and forth between these two periods throughout the book (these presented as lengthy sections of the story rather than 'flashbacks,' and which are therefore orderly and easy to follow).
book cover - Victorian woman in profile, sepia tone
The cover image features a photograph by Julia Margaret Cameron.
Maxwell is single and lives a settled existence, being the object of much affection and admiration among the ladies of the village, especially on those occasions when he entertains them with his poetry readings, a regular event on the social calendar of Daneburton. Among those devotees, we come to identify the main female protagonist of the story, Maud Blake, who is drawn into focus gradually and gains in importance as the story unfolds. Into this settled existence comes a 'blast from the past' in the form of an old friend of Max’s – a photographer by the name of Brough Fawley.

From then onwards, the plot thickens and tensions begin to mount. We are drawn back to a place and time thirty years previous in which the two men meet at the home of Max’s benefactor and mentor, and from which the stage is set for the drama that unfolds. The women of Daneburton, meanwhile, themselves a veritable hotbed of intrigue, jealousy and simmering desire, are thrown into disarray with the introduction of the handsome and rakish photographer who, albeit no longer in the first blush of youth, becomes the catalyst for a very sedate, English sort of mayhem that gradually spirals out of control.
old sepia tone photo, Victorian, of woman with early camera
c. 1890’s 'cabinet card' of a woman with a camera.
Very much an ‘adult’ story, it requires a good degree of concentration, like a puzzle that one knows will eventually fall into place. And so the pages keep turning. There is good balance between sentiment and passion among the characters, and some unusual and often shocking antics from time to time, especially if you are of the persuasion that Victorians were a sober and restrained lot. They weren’t.

The invention of the camera brought its own temptations to mid-Victorian society, a time when – at least among the well-to-do - it was possible for everyone to become their own artist, their own hero or villain in front of (or behind) the lens. Repercussions were almost inevitable. It is this aspect of the story that is especially unusual and original it conception.
young woman with dark hair, looking up
Author Kirsty Stonell Walker.
The author blends combinations of ideas and phrases in a clever and engaging style. The dialogue between the characters and also the verses of poetry that feature from time to time all have a perfectly authentic period ring, while the descriptions of 19th Century photography are clearly built on research and experience without intruding on the narrative.A thoroughly enjoyable, sophisticated novel, and a worthy addition to the Neo-Victorian genre, 'We are Villains All' is released today, and is available in paperback and kindle.

Authored by Robert Stephen Parry

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