Set in the late 1700s in England, this is the story of a girl who goes from nothing to… well, nothing. Aggie, or Peggin, as she becomes known later, has a chip on her shoulder. Born to circus performers, she ends up being left as a young girl in an orphanage of sorts. Abused by the vicar who is there to “teach” the girls, she runs away. Luckily, she is brought in as a housemaid to two ladies. But even there, treated kindly and educated, Peggin cannot bring herself to reciprocate. She has lost her mother, her siblings, and she is determined to take it out on everyone around her. She only knows how to betray, and that she does, over and over. Eventually, she finds her brother, and then her younger sister, but along the way, more kindness and more misfortune occur.
This is a difficult story brilliantly told. Aggie/Peggin is a tour-de-force of character flaws, her slang and vernacular singular. The reader immediately understands that her willingness to cut off her own nose to spite her face is an intractable entrenched quality that she might not overcome. This is Georgian fiction at its finest, as it is not about the aristocracy—this is about the everyman, the building-up of small communities over time, and how young women like Aggie/Peggin must bend to the will of the world or suffer. And suffer she does, for she is unwilling to bend. Highly recommended.