Wow. Okay. This book was a hell of a roller-coaster for me.
It starts out pretty much exactly how I expected. Something sweet, something innocent and naive, before falling down a really long flight of Sin Stairs, very quickly. I'm not unaccustomed to books leaving me reeling after I'd finished reading them, but Tipping the Velvet had me constantly on my toes. The abrupt change of tone once part two hits completely threw off my plot senses and I had absolutely no idea what to expect - had to just throw up my hands and coast along with the book until the end, wherever it decided to take me.
None of this was a bad thing. On one hand I knew exactly what I was getting into reading this, but somehow the book managed to deliver not only precisely what I was expecting, but also the total opposite of what I was prepared for. Seeing Nancy change in the ways that she did was reminiscent, for me, of a sort of time-lapse of a caterpillar metamorphosing into a butterfly. The changes were startling, and the person we're left with at the end of the book isn't even remotely like the Nancy we start out with.
That was kind of amazing to see. She slides from naive, to inexperienced and hopelessly in love, to embittered and self-destructive, to proud and pathetic, before life evens out for her and she's given an opportunity to start clawing her way back up from the pits she'd gotten herself into. I definitely enjoyed that.
The prose itself was gorgeous to me, emulating a very strong Victorian feel without the stodginess of age and natural evolution of language weighing it down. It was seamlessly easy to see everything that was being presented to me; the imagery of the various parts of London popped, the smells and colours and sounds were just there. The innuendos and double entendres were nice little nods of the hat to the reader - often rather amusing ones - and made getting absorbed into the story much more interesting.
It's been hours since I finished the book and I'm still sitting here, mumbling 'whoa' to myself every now and then.