Waters pitches the reader straight into the Victorian stew with a character called Mrs. Sucksby, who makes her living rearing orphans in a sort of thieves' nursery … Sue Trinder herself is Oliver Twist with a twist: female and sexually aware … This is a Victorian novel the Victorians never dreamed of writing. Yet Waters keeps reminding us of what they did write … Metaphors about reading are scattered throughout the novel, suggesting the vicarious life Maud has to suffer while she is tied to her uncle's catalog of dirty books...Literature as enslaver, books as concealers of truth: Waters spins an absorbing tale that withholds as much as it discloses … She writes great Gothic, her descriptive skill augmented by an acute ear for dialogue.
Waters is not interested, thank God, in prissy Victorian affectations; like Dickens, she digs around in the poorhouses, prisons and asylums to come up with characters who not only court and curtsy but dramatize the unfairness of poverty and gender disparity in their time … Waters's noted attention to historical detail and her beautifully sensitive dialogue help to anchor the force-five plot twisters … Waters's tough and intelligent heroines are often too busy girlishly pinching themselves out of their astonishment to keep pace with the Dickensian escapades Waters sends them on, and their separate narratives keep them (almost entirely) from pinching each other.
Waters's Victorian London is a city where thieves say ‘fuck’ and ‘cunt’, where babies are dosed with gin until they conk out, where ‘knifish’ boys sit by the fire spitting out peanut shells. Most brutal, daring and refreshing of all, it's a place where pornography, emotional abuse and rape are the natural bedfellows of greed and lovelessness … It's a thriller, yes, but it's also a love story - a sexy, passionate and startling one. I hesitate to call it lesbian, because that seems to marginalise it far more than it deserves. Suffice to say, it is erotic and unnerving in all the right ways … The last 50 pages are so sensationally tense that you read them naughtily, one eye on the sentence in hand, the other attempting vainly to cheat and flick ahead.