Hmm I feel bad giving this the same rating as the prior entry in the series, Bringing Down the Duke, because while similar this book is so very much better.
It is, like the first book, at its heart a romance novel but like Serious and Literary, which you can tell because it gets a proper book release and the cover has the cartoon characters as opposed to a realistic drawing. No one is denying that part of it, there are tropes galore (the dowdy one gets new clothing, and the dude is Taken Aback when he sees her!) and if you don’t think this ends with a HEA, you are clearly only just starting to read these novels.
But interwoven within the frames of the classic romcom is a surprisingly modern (anachronistic you say? the author’s note makes it clear that it’s not!) set of worries that take the issues at hand from frothy to fulsome. It’s no spoiler that this novel is about suffragettes, and all manner of first wave feminism in Victorian-era UK. The first book, for all that it introduced these characters and their cause, was nevertheless basically using the wave as window dressing (and, in doing so, skated over the broad coalition of people who agitated for women’s rights). Did others have similar criticism? Did Dunmore have a desire to get at more of the discomfort but needed to trick her readers into buying into these characters?
Whatever it may be, this book deals realistically and fairly concretely with the same set of steps that dog heterosexual women to date when it comes to sussing out the allyship of men. I agree with Lucie that Annabelle is unlikely to be as committed to the Cause after getting married in the previous installment. I agree that there’s no such thing as a head over heels romantic proposal in a system that literally treats married women as property. In the modern day, the first is analogous to women who get married and have kids not being as committed to career ambitions. As for the second, a) did you know the Marriage Property Act is still a thing in UK law? and b) even if there’s not literal de-personification happening after marriage, it’s not like the strictures of hetereosexual marriage don’t weigh unevenly on women.
At the end of the day I didn’t expect to feel so seen in what was supposed to be a light, chill palette cleanser of a book. Definitely recommend! (no real need to read the first, although it helps).
Side note–I’ll keep reading these books because I enjoy the characters and the writing, but also I cannot wait for these broads to hit the age when the Property Act is amended (two years after the end of this novel) and women receive the right to vote (38 years, which is long but within their lifetimes!)