The Bonbon Girl by Linda Finlay - book review: Filled with drama, engaging characters

The traditional art of sweet-making lies at the heart of a delicious new saga from Linda Finlay, an author who has made it her mission to breathe new life into some of the West Country's long-lost rural industries.

The Bonbon Girl by Linda Finlay
The Bonbon Girl by Linda Finlay

From lacemaking and growing violets to ribbon and rock-making, Finlay has learned to do these fascinating crafts herself to bring authenticity and local colour to her captivating stories which are filled with adventure, romance, local history and the stunning landscape she knows and loves so well.

The Bonbon Girl – a thrilling adventure set on Cornwall’s rugged Lizard peninsula in 1860 – explores both the making of traditional sweetmeats and the Cornish serpentine rock mining industry which was made famous by its avid royal customers, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

A rollercoaster story of cruelty and friendship, triumph and tragedy, this is a gritty tale steeped in the customs, history and communities of 19th century Cornwall where survival was dependent on finding work and braving the vagaries of the Cornish coastal weather.

Life has always been a battle for 17-year-old Colenso Carne. Her drunken father, Peder, squanders his wages from the local serpentine stone factory, leaving her mother with little money to care for the family.

Colenso makes a meagre income by shaping and polishing the factory’s leftover cuttings into ornaments to sell to the few tourists who visit their corner of Cornwall. Her life is given purpose by her love for Kitto Rowse, a handsome trainee marble turner at the factory, and they have plans to marry in the not too distant future.

But when Colenso catches the eye of the new serpentine factory manager, Harry Fenton, her father insists that she reject her beloved Kitto in order to marry him.

Forced to flee the village when Fenton turns nasty, she is taken under the wing of wise woman and fortune teller Madam Mara and travels to local fairs in her wagon, learning to make bonbons, rock candy and sweetmeats to pay her way.

However, the fair has a dark side as well and Colenso escapes to Penzance where she finds work in a sweet shop. Her skills bring her to the attention of local businessman Garren Goss and together they start to build a formidable reputation for confectionery.


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But there’s trouble ahead in the shape of a face from the past… and Colenso has never given up hope of being reunited with Kitto.

Finlay’s atmospheric story is filled with drama, engaging characters and a plotline that takes us from a tumbledown cottage near rocky Cadgwith cove to a tough life on the road with a travelling fair and the streets of picturesque Penzance.

There is a real warmth and imaginative flair to Finlay’s writing and this adventure delivers not just a perfect escapist read but a fascinating insight into rural crafts and the production process of the uniquely coloured dark green, red or grey Cornish serpentine rock which became known as the ‘English marble.’

(HQ, paperback, £7.99)