Through some rabbit hole on the internet, I stumbled across the name Anya Seton and a fancy cover for her book, The Turqouise. Intrigued, I waited patiently for the inter-library loan snail to bring it to me, and boy was I surprised when the book delivered was a battered hardcover bound with actual thread and smelling of an octogenarian’s basement. While slightly put-off, I accepted it anyway and went home to discover the strange and satisfying pleasure of reading an old book. I ripped my fare share of pages just turning them, but the weight of the paper, old typeset font, and water stains lent a certain type of sacristy to the reading experience which influenced my feelings about the words on the page in a way I’ve not experienced before.
But now on to the actual content:
Seton’s described by others as a Romance writer, but she described herself as a fictional historic biographer, and honestly I think both descriptions are accurate. While Seton’s history is well researched and her details poignantly written and beautifully descriptive, the driving force of The Turquoise’s plot is romance, or at least the powers of seduction. This isn’t said in any way to downplay how much I enjoyed this book, even though romance driven plots aren’t normally my thing. Seton’s ability to so accurately recreate the Gilded Age gives me the key into the book that would otherwise have probably bored me.
Seton begins her tale in Santa Fe during the Civil War where we meet our main character, Santa Fe Cameron, or Fey for short, who seems to continuously get the short end of the stick thanks to the very hostile realities of the 19th Century. She’s a scrappy heroine, though, and uses her brains (but mostly the seductive powers of her womanly charms) to elevate herself out of the muck and dysentery of the poor majority. She’s got a destiny she continually ignores, which leads to equal parts heartache and wisdom in the end. At its core, the book discusses the forces of hunger for power verses hunger for love, and how they are often entwined. It’s a book about listening to what one should do verses what one wants to do, and sometimes the story does show its age a little (it’s original publication date was 1946), but its unclear whether that’s due to the historical setting or Seton’s own outlook.
On a historical level, I was struck by just how temporary the gilding was on the fast-made fortunes of the rich and famous cropping up on 5th Avenue. This book takes a hard and unflattering look on both the emotional and financial costs of those trying to keep up with the Astors. The stark materialism and literal gilding on top of the dumpster-fire that was most of these people’s lives is shown in vivid color through Seton’s beautiful descriptions and well-paced plotting. Craft-wise this book is a gem, giving exactly what the plot needs at the right time, building the tension where necessary, and pulling back when it needs to. And the last chapters are satisfying with everyone getting exactly what they deserve.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes either the Romance or Historical fiction genres.