For lovers of fashion competitions, victorian settings, and underdogs, Autumn Krause’s debut YA historical fiction A Dress for the Wicked is the perfect match.
Set in the fictitious country of Britannia Secunda (a country that seceded from Victorian Britain), the story follows Emmy, a daughter of a pub owner in the secluded countryside of Shy. Emmy dreams in lace, ribbons, and chiffon. When she’s not helping her mom with the pub, she spends her time sketching fantastic and gorgeous high couture gowns. More than anything, Emmy wants to be a designer at the renowned and only fashion house in all of Britannia Secunda. When the fashion house opens its annual competition to countryfolk due to increased pressure from the Parliament to be more inclusive, Emmy leaps at the chance to make her dreams a reality.
After barely snagging her slot in the competition, Emmy quickly realizes that all is not buttons and bows. The fashion house harbors a cutthroat and dark underbelly, and someone wants to cut her up and toss her out like last year’s fashion line. Being far from home and looked down upon by everyone at the fashion house, Emmy begins to wonder what is it going to cost for her to pursue her dreams.
A Dress for the Wicked surprised me. I thought the story would follow a simple fashion competition and have a cliche happy ending. I was wrong. Autumn Krause takes the simple premise of a country girl competing at a fashion house and expands it into an engaging world with political intrigue and drama.
Admittedly, I found the first third of the book a tad slow, but I understand that it was necessary to lay the groundwork and conflict for the rest of the novel.
I liked Emmy; her tenacious spirit and self-confidence, even in the face of prejudice against her country roots, is commendable. She also makes mistakes that feel human, which I appreciate. She is not invincible, and gets flustered under pressure. She does not forgive easily either, another aspect that adds realism to her character.
One of the other fashion house contestants, Sophie, is an intriguing character as well. She’s brilliant, mysterious, and cunning. Her devotion to wearing only black rivals any hardcore goth. I honestly wish we got to follow her storyline a bit more. The tension between Sophie, Emmy, and Tristan had me squirming in my seat, but I loved it.
Speaking of Tristan, I want to love this boy so badly, and part of me does, but I wish we had gotten more time to know more about him and flesh out his character. He comes off as one-dimensional, and I would love to see more of an internal struggle and insight into his psyche rather than the superficial quest of wanting to work for a more respectable newspaper.
With that said, all the characters could have been fleshed out more. I was left with more questions about their lives than answers.
Where this book truly shines, however, is in its details. Krause’s descriptions of the clothing are breathtaking and make the story come alive. I could easily visualize the clothing Emmy and the Fashion House created. It is obvious that Krause has a background in fashion design (she worked at a high end bridal fashion house prior to writing this novel).
The ending surprised me. It left me thinking that there’s a sequel in the works, perhaps?
Overall, A Dress for the Wicked holds an interesting premise that almost delivers. The novel tried to do a little bit of everything, one part fashion competition, one part political drama, and one part romance. Because of the many different threads, the story could only skim across the surface of each aspect. Yet, the one thing this book delivers is the fashion. If you love high couture and shows like Project Runway, this book is for you.