Intrigue in a Finishing School
“Lucy Wickshire” by Mfonemana Uduak, 2018
The author is a Nigerian woman. Having read the Nigeria-based horror stories of Nuzo Onoh, I was expecting a similar setting.
I was in for a surprise when I found myself reading about a spoiled and pampered heiress sent off to a finishing school, surrounded by servants to wait on her every need. While the setting is fantasy (complete with a map of fictitious realms), the book could be set in Victorian England without much change.
This book has plots and schemes worthy of the Game of Thrones series. Every character is up to something and no one is safe. There's the ailing king (ala Shakespeare's Henry IV) and a scheming queen (Lady Macbeth?) and a secret clan whom no one dares defy.
Our heroine, Lady Lucy Wickshire, may be spoiled, but she is not without intelligence and determination. Indeed, her deductive abilities rival that of the Great Detective. When she suspects a plot, she takes a local boy, Walter, into her employ, serving as her eyes and ears.
The supposedly lowborn Walter quickly initiates intricate plots and schemes of his own. He cowers those who stand in the way of his new mistress and he employs lords to do his dirty work, even going so far as to steal the queen's gold. After bringing Walter into her confidence, Lucy's story often takes a backseat to Walter's wheeling and dealings.
Everyone in the book is afraid of Lucy Wickshire and no one gives any reason for this. Walter is the only one who realizes he can use this fear to his advantage—by working for her.
One of the most appealing parts of the story is the character of Lucy herself. Quietly, this little girl is completely aware of her effect on people. She knows how to get what she wants and she does so without raising her voice or disturbing anyone, including herself. Look up the word unflappable in the dictionary and you will see a picture of Lucy Wickshire.
The various plots and schemes can get both complicated and convoluted. So does the narrative, in a few places. But stick with it and you'll find some interesting characters and situations.
English is not Mfonemana's first language and, unfortunately, it shows. Words are frequently dropped out or used incorrectly. There are incorrect tenses. Words like “overlook,” “backbone,” “earthquake,” “outdone,” “everybody,” “seaside,” and even “outside” are written as two words, sometimes changing their meaning. Perhaps the worst line in the book is this: “Though she tried to make sure only ugly maids worked in her household, her disgusting of a husband enjoys to bring in prostitutes, which he always expected her to take care of.” Although, “Asking her if she was hurrying to interrupt the king's conversation because she was worried about him, was a way to show her that all knew that she did not like the Lady Steinhouse and they all thought she was going to cause commotion,” comes close.
This is a real shame, because the writing is otherwise quite good and the dialog has moments of wit as characters attempt to spar verbally. A decent editor could have easily eliminated these errors and run-on sentences. Reading the mistakes in “Lucy Wickshire” was more amusing than a chore, but the book still needs a good proofreading.