As often happens with books that I five-star love and gobble up in a mindless pleasure fest of reading indulgently, I am finding it hard to have anything to say beyond BOOK GOOD READ NOW. But let’s try anyway.
This is the second book in Courtney Milan’s Wedgeford Trials series, about a small town in Victorian England that is full of mostly Chinese emigrants (as always, the author’s notes are a must-read for historical context) but other members of the Asian diaspora as well. The town has become infamous in larger England for holding annual games called the Wedgeford Trials, which bring a lot of outsiders in, which is a great base for a series of romance novels. This particular book doesn’t have much of a focus on the games at all; in fact they’re barely in it. It’s more about the larger community, as experienced by two people who feel outside of it. (One of them significantly more than the other.)
Our lifelong Wedgeford resident is Naomi, a Chinese/Japanese young woman who desperately wants to take an Ambulance class, despite her over-protective parents’ wishes. It’s on her quest to sign up for these classes (which were basically first-aid) that she meets (or rather, meets again) Kai, who she at first takes for a man who only speaks Chinese. She drags him along and then when she receives pushback from the white men in charge of the sign-up, on the spot makes up a fake fiancé, who is apparently Kai, so she can get her way. Unbeknownst to Naomi, Kai and she have met before, and in fact, they are ALREADY engaged, and have been since childhood, when Kai’s conman father duped the whole village into a scheme, stole heaps of money, and then scarpered off, leaving Kai behind to face the consequences. He is returning to Wedgeford to commit once last con. On the way home to Wedgeford, Naomi discovers her mistake, but Kai keeps their childhood betrothal to himself, for obvious reasons. Somehow, they end up fake engaged anyway, as it’s in both of their interests. I won’t say more than that because it gets complicated, but doesn’t feel that way while you’re reading.
The character arcs here are glorious. The community is so wholesome and fun. Kai’s past and present collide in a way that is very satisfying, and Naomi’s perspective shift through the novel, to do with both herself and her relationship with her parents, was incredibly well done. It’s also stinkin’ cute, and Kai is a master potter, so we get a lot of really cool historical detail about Japanese pottery that I absolutely ate up, which then caused me to go down a YouTube rabbit hole that I don’t recommend you go down unless you want to lose several hours of your life.
I actually think I liked this one quite a bit more than the first book. I connected with the characters more, and the plot and their emotional arcs felt like they had a lot more substance than Chloe and Jeremy’s story did, which was basically just extremely pleasant fluff. This is fluff with substance, which is that even fluff? But anyway, apparently I’m really into that dynamic, and this is a very good book that you should read also.