Hercules Barefoot was born in 1813 on the same night and in the same house (of ill-repute) as the love of his life, Henriette. Neither have blessed existences, although Henriette’s mother at least survives childbirth, but they become inseparable.
It’s a story about love, overcoming disability, prejudice and sadism. Some passages can be incredibly slow, almost intricate in detail, as they build to a climatic scene which seems to be over before it begins. Although it contains horror, those scenes are hurried past. It is the love scenes and displays of personal courage that are central to the narrative.
Horror lovers are likely to be frustrated by the way the writer almost skips the violent scenes, and romance lovers are likely to struggle with the very dark nature of the story. It is perhaps the dark humour that is the book’s most endearing feature and it is that aspect that I enjoyed most of all. A frequently funny, although often heart-breaking alternative history of Europe and America.