Richly portrayed gothic-style tale, which had me gripped throughout.
Crimson and Bone's tagline was a 'twisted story of love and obsession', and it certainly lived up to it. With a cast of prostitutes, pre-Raphaelite artists, mysterious men and eerie vases, not to mention the gorgeously portrayed backdrops of Victorian London, Florence and Venice, this was a book that captivated me from the start, and kept me firmly hooked until the final pages.
Annie Stride, a prostitute, starts the book standing on the edge of London's Bridge of Sighs, ready to jump off and end her life. Her best friend / work companion Mary-Jane is dead - drowned in the river only a month previously, and Annie feels she has nothing left to live for, especially as she's pregnant.
A mysterious, wealthy man called Francis rescues her, and takes her back to his home, where he transforms her life completely. He's a painter and eager to portray her as a variety of different women - Jezebel, the Mary Magdalene... in fact, a wide range of fallen women. His most sinister painting features her wearing an old, tatty white dress and clutching a vase; which appears to be of utmost value for Francis.
As you might guess (without giving too much away), there's something sinister afoot, and for a long time, Annie's only real clue is the flowers that Francis has her posing with - the pungent carmelias that she soon grows to detest. A mysterious Italian, known initially as the 'rainbow man' on account of his occupation selling paints to painters, starts posing for pictures alongside Annie - but it turns out that he's more than he seems too...
There was much to love about this book. Above all else (and most importantly), it was a ripping good yarn. Well-paced and richly detailed, it kept me turning the pages well into the wee small hours of the night. I also adored the three distinct locations in England and Italy. It was very apparent that the author was intimate with all of them, because she conveys them so wonderfully, without overloading the reader with too much detail. I also loved the artistic details - the references to painting which were not only well researched but added real depth to the story.
The end had me surprised, and the final conclusion was satisfying, to say the least. A thoroughly enjoyable read, and one I'd recommend, particularly if you enjoy darker mysteries and 'rags to riches' stories such as The Crimson Petal and the White.