If you’re in the mood for a very sweet, low angst, feminist historical romance, you can’t really go wrong with this book. Tiny Bookbot reviewed the second in the series a couple weeks ago and it sounded charming enough to try. Chronologically, of course.
Plot: Prim headmistress of a school for middle class girls writes penny dreadful novels in secret to help supplement her income and keep her school afloat. A Now Rich But Born In the Slums fellow author of penny dreadfuls uses his income to free street urchins being kidnapped by various people with nasty motives. Their paths cross because of similar literary circles and a shared desire to help underprivileged kids access education. Together, they save a bunch of kids.
It’s all very wholesome. Yes, obviously, there is reference to child abuse, which can be triggering for some readers. There is no abuse on the page, but there is one description of a child that has very obviously been recently abused. There is also a threat to two girls who are rescued from being sold to a brothel (they aren’t, and it is never a question that their rescue will be successful). Other than that, this book is generally just the very wholesome, closed door romance of the prim headmistress itching at the social shackles that force her to be placid in public to ensure her school continues to receive funds and students and a guy who grew up very poor and realizes how incredibly lucky he was to escape that life so he works to share that luck with others. Just a bunch of nice people working hard to make the world around them nicer too.
There are a few things that make this book special enough that I will definitely pick up the next one. First, a regency novel that *actually acknowledges that slavery exists*. Crazy, right? Not only that, but it recognizes that there are multiple forms of slavery, and they are all bad (in this book it’s the context of child “employees” and the rights their “employer” has over them, which at least to my knowledge is fairly accurate of the time and genuinely horrifying). This also means that we’re going to have a novel coming in the series, I assume, where we will actually have a story about a former slave who secured his own freedom finding love and that is just all kinds of rad in my books. Though the author is white, this novel does give me hope that she’ll treat him right.
Tiny Bookbot mentioned that the regency language in the portions of the book that are snippets of a penny dreadful aren’t terribly accurate and that is entirely possible. I can’t say I read enough from the era to be able to tell, but if you’re a nitpicker (I say this with love), that might bug you also. I mean, one of the stories is basically regency era Scooby Do, only the ghosts are real ghosts, not landscapers pretending to be ghosts.
This book is not going to challenge you, but it isn’t trying to. There is no real mystery, there are no surprising twists to the story. Our hero doesn’t need to learn to respect our heroine. Our heroine doesn’t need to learn to value herself. There are a couple of misadventures that could have been avoided with some better communication, but again, the stakes are so low that it doesn’t really matter one way or another. There’s a big fire and no one so much as gets soot on them. There is nothing that will get your heart rate up. It’s a comfort read, kind of like a modern fairy tale (that happens to be set in the past). You know how this story goes and there is pleasure in having that story told well.