Following Ophelia by Sophia Bennett
Genre: Historical, Romance
Publisher: Stripes Books
Format: ARC e-book
I was really drawn to this book because Bee and I just did a module on Victorian literature, and the week on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was my absolute favourite. We learnt all about the poets, the artists, and the muses, most importantly, Lizzie Siddal, who was the model for Millais’ Ophelia.
So, I saw this book and knew instantly that I had to read it and I was so glad I did. It surprised me, it delighted and I was completely absorbed by the 19th century London setting. If you need more reason to pick this up, beyond the cover, let me list some for you!
Following Ophelia is extremely well-paced. Probably one of the best paced novels I’ve read in a long time. Despite being 400 pages long, I managed to read it in one evening because I was pulled through the novel at just the right speed. I think this is down to the well-plotted life of Mary, the protagonist. She’s introduced as a servant to a wealthy London household, discovers the art scene, becomes a muse, flaunts around London with a secret identity and gets up to lots of shenanigans with the painters and patrons.
It’s like the nineteenth century version of Hannah Montana. When is a comparison with the Golden Age of the Disney Channel ever a bad thing? Mary has her servant identity, as well as her muse persona, Persephone. There are no wigs involved, but there’s certainly a lot of sneaking around while she enjoys the throws of fame.
Art is beautiful = Book about art is beautiful. Reading about Mary being painted and admired was lovely. The Pre-Raphaelites have got to be some of the most talents artists in the whole universe, and this really feeds into the book. There’s such a focus on the beauty in the ordinary, and making things even more visually amazing than they are. It might be the 1800s, but it was so refreshing to see a diverse hobby portrayed in such an authentic way.
The romance. The. Romance. I loved it. It felt very old school YA, and that was great. It hit just the right level of indulgent desire and I was trash for it. The poetry side of the PRB was called ‘The Fleshly School of Poetry’ and I think that’s how I’d describe this too, while being totally tasteful. There’s also a small love triangle to get behind, between Mary and Felix and Mary and Rupert (I know which of the two guys I prefer, for sure!)
Overall, Following Ophelia consumed me, and I consumed it. There was something so amazingly addictive about it, and I cared about Mary instantly. It wasn’t one of those things that grew as I read, I was just there, ready to care about her and protect her and support every decision she made. I love books set in this time, and it definitely reminded me of the Hetty Feather series by Jacqueline Wilson, so if you’re looking for those vibes, but targeted to an older audience, I couldn’t recommend this one more. I gave it 4 stars, and can’t wait to find out if this is a stand alone or a series, because I need more.