First Note: READ THE DISCUSSION QUESTIONS that’s all I have to say for now.
Also that there’s less (marginal? Confused-and-not-meant?) transphobia than you might think, read with a clear heart and no armor!
Full Review: I’ve had a great little back and forth with llamareadsbooks over my note from above re: the transphobia in this book. The point of discussion is basically around Gracewood (the male lead) and how much he sinks before he starts the well-trod-by-male-leads-in-romances apology tour to prove himself worthy of the female lead, who does nothing and remains excellent the way she always was. And I think it’s fair to say ymmv with regards to how badly Gracewood takes the reveal that his childhood friend is not dead, but is living her life the way she’s always felt she should live (but perhaps couldn’t articulate, until meeting another transgender person and gaining a vocabulary and example). My take is that Gracewood is super self-centered by the reveal, completely disregarding the courage and struggle that Viola went through to save herself (which no one else could do) for his feelings of hurt for being abandoned by his friend (despite him also having a devoted younger sister who he’s steadfastly ignored for years and very close friends who care about him).
It’s a lot of words for something that is pivotal but also not the point of the novel. Hall (a queer cisgender man, it should be noted) set out to write a novel about a transgender lead where the main plot drive wasn’t her trans identity but some other, more common romance trope (you ABANDONED me and I have sunk into despair / I have alllllllwaysssssss lovedddd youuuuuuuuuuu IIII have always loved youuuuuu / but we cAnNoT be together). I (a queer, cisgender woman) feel like in that sense he succeeded. The main plot points are all about Gracewood being sad that his friend died, having PTSD, realizing his friend did not die, and then realizing that he’s in love with her and trying to convince her to be in love with him (which she already is. this is Romancelandia).
There’s also a whole plot with his sister, which initially seems a bit superfluous but eventually comes into its own.
Hall brings his signature snappy dialogue and magic queer wand to this setting, which is a bit more established and less slapstick than Something Fabulous (there are no floral anuses here). Lady Marleigh, Viola’s sister-in-law, is everything I want to be as a aristocratic lady. I want to one day send out an emissary to do my socializing. I already have the inability to admit that I’m wrong, as it were. There’s just enough self-awareness in the aristocracy and what it means to a society to keep you from being entirely uncomfortable. And as I noted above, the point of the latter arc is to convince Viola that she’s perfect the way she is and that Gracewood needs to win her forgiveness and trust for the long haul.
Definitely a must-read from a must-read author (WHEN is Husband Material coming out???), and really, don’t skip the discussion questions at the back even though they’re usually not very entertaining!