The Best of Sisters

Written by Dilly Court

Having accidentally killed a man, Bart Bragg, a Thames waterman, is forced to flee England, abandoning his 12-year-old sister, Eliza, to the cruel guardianship of their uncle, a Wapping chandler. Life in the chandlery is very hard; only her hopes for Bart’s return comfort Eliza. When her uncle throws her onto the street in rags and barefoot, she is taken in by a kind sailmaker and his wife. Eliza finds a job, and life seems promising, but there are many challenges to come.

The novel splits between Bart’s adventures in the New Zealand goldfields and Eliza’s struggles in the East End slums. A natural storyteller, Court skilfully paces the Braggs’ crises and triumphs—and there are many—keeping the reader gripped over 500 pages. Eliza is a three-dimensional heroine: a convincing product of 19th-century poverty and prejudice. London’s East End with its hardships and violence is well drawn, as are its variety of residents. A very entertaining read.