The Steps of the Priory (by Sally Quilford)

I’ve known Sally Quilford online for some years now; she’s quite a prolific writer of short stories and pocket novellas, which she publishes on Kindle and sometimes makes available free to download on special occasions.

‘The Steps of the Priory’ is her longest work to date, a full-length novel and the first in a series (although she has not yet written the sequel). It’s a historical saga, set over about thirty years, beginning in 1917 and ending just after the second World War. I downloaded it for my Kindle a couple of years ago and read it recently, while visiting relatives.

The opening sequence to this book sees the teenage Becky running through the streets with her friend Jed, clutching a bundle which we quickly realise is a baby. She drops it on the steps of the Priory, owned by the Harcourt family, in the hope that they - or perhaps one of their servants - will take the baby in and look after him.

Charles Harcourt and his drug-addicted sister Patricia come across the baby, and Patricia decides to adopt him after losing her own baby. But they tell nobody, and she claims to have had her child elsewhere, so no connection is made by any of the characters until quite a way through the novel…

Becky’s home life is miserable, and it rapidly gets worse; however she has plenty of friends. And here’s where my only real problem with this novel lies: there are a lot of characters, and I found it difficult to keep track of who is whom. I read this book over just a few days (it was hard to put down at times) so it wasn’t as if I had forgotten the story. But although the names and circumstances were different, I simply couldn’t remember who was married (or in love with, or parents of) whom, other than the main protagonists. Sally Quilford has quite a gift of characterisation, and some of her people - Becky in particular - stood out as believable and memorable. But there are a lot of minor characters, mostly men, who were almost indistinguishable to me.

Still, the story moves at a great pace, with transitions in time handled well without jarring. It's a good story, and the plot lines all tie together nicely. I had guessed most of what was revealed in the final pages, but that didn’t matter; it was quite satisfying to find that I was right, and had spotted some subtle clues that others might have missed.

If I’m being picky, there’s one subplot (involving a most unpleasant doctor) which didn’t really seem to fit with the rest of the book. And there’s rather too much description of intimate details for my tastes. It’s mostly not too sordid and doesn’t go on for too long, but means I have to be a little careful about who I recommend it to.

However, these are minor gripes; on the whole I thought this a very good read, and look forward to a sequel.

Note that the link above is to the Kindle edition; no longer free but very reasonably priced. There is also a newly published large print version which is quite expensive but may be available in libraries.

Review by copyright 2014 Sue's Book Reviews

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