This was honestly one of the best books that I have read in a long time. The funny thing is that I almost stopped reading it about a third of the way through. I didn't almost stop reading it because I thought it was badly written or that it was boring. I almost stopped reading it because I felt so connected with the main character and she kept having bad things happen to her and I just didn't know if I could take more of that. I am so happy that I decided to continue reading it.
I can't recall feeling this connected to a character in a long time as I felt with the main character Arabella. She goes by many names throughout this book but I am just going to call her Arabella. This is written as though Arabella has written a book about her life (and this book is actually based on a real woman named Belle Cora, which is a name that Arabella goes by in this book). I really liked getting to read everything from her point-of-view and the fact that it was written as though it was an autobiography really enhanced the story for me.
Throughout her adulthood Arabella does some pretty unsavory things: prostitution, becomes a famous madame, and much more. You would think that because of those things that she wouldn't be a character that you would sympathize with or even like. I loved Arabella and while reading this book it felt like I was Arabella (well maybe not with the prostitution parts). Whenever she was wronged, I wanted vengeance; whenever she was sad, I was sad. I think that most of the reasons why she ends up the way she does is because of the way she was treated by her family when she was sent to live with her aunt and uncle. No matter what she ended up doing I still rooted for her.
The one thing that Arabella wants most throughout this book is Jeptha Talbot's love. She originally fell in love with Jeptha while she was living with her aunt and uncle and spends her life trying to gain Jeptha's love. For most of the book I thought that Jeptha just wasn't the right man for her. They were so different that I felt like he would never make her happy and she could never really make him happy either. As I neared the end of the book I realized that I was wrong. Jeptha's love could have been the one thing to truly save her.
This was such a beautifully written book that highlighted what life was like in San Francisco during the gold rush. Through Arabella's story you get to see the corruption in politics during those times, what life in a parlor house was like, and all the rebuilding of the city after fires and a major earthquake.
I would highly recommend this book to someone looking for a fascinating historical fiction novel.