This volume is the first in a trilogy, a fascinating historical biography about the author's great-great-grandmother, Sarah Valentine. Born in 1819 in the deprived East End of London, she led a life filled with heartache and adversity. England was in a deep depression, along with the whole of Europe, brought on by the Napoleonic wars. This was, of course, during the time of Charles Dickens, who would have known the area well. Some of Sarah Valentine's experiences mirrored those of Dickens's characters, in that she was "taken in" by a "Fagin" of the time and fell into thievery. She was later thrown into the Shoreditch workhouse, where she fell afoul of a number of feral girls, who were quite happy to inflict serious harm to anyone who got in their way.
In his in-depth biography, Philip Coates offers remarkable insight into the daily struggles of a real-life, penniless young woman who survived a depraved and dangerous environment. His meticulous research has produced a unique portrait of a family member who was born in a turbulent time in London's history.