This is the second historical novel I have read by Dilly Court, and once again, she sunk me into the period with all the prejudice and classism endemic in the 1800s. The story begins with an awkward friendship between a spoiled, manipulative lady and her lifelong friend who begins the book as a beleaguered housemaid.
Okay, not quite true. It begins in the night on a hill where a Romany woman awaits the birth of her daughter’s illegitimate child for whom she has arranged a home. The child of a noblewoman born out of wedlock is also in her care after she found the mother already in labor by the river. The Romany grandmother finds a safe home for this girl as well, both children growing up believing themselves legitimate.
I never truly liked Josie, raised as a lady, because she is unthinking, hypercritical, and selfish, but I came to appreciate her flawed but contrite nature. She is often repentant after the fact and occasionally shows flashes of maturity even at her worst though they don’t last.
Kate, on the other hand, takes charge of every circumstance with her practical hard working personality, overcoming every obstacle except her sense of place. She’s had to work to help support her father ever since her mother died when she was young. Still, rather than being bitter toward her childhood friend, Kate does her best to help Josie come safely through whatever wild plan she’s dragged Kate into. Her loyalty and capacity for forgiveness rivals that of a saint. She takes far too much abuse from those around her, Josie included.
There are several love stories running throughout though I wouldn’t say they are the primary focus. That honor falls to the tangled relationship between the two young women. While some might protest the love story for Kate and Harry (a man whose wealth comes from trade), including Kate, there are enough historical accounts to show that love did defeat the class and wealth barriers, especially among those who earned their wealth.
Bottom line, the story is nicely resonant of its historical setting, shedding light on the biases and foul behaviors as much as the strength of bonds even when society would frown on them. I especially appreciated the clear presentation of the way different strata of society lived, demonstrated both in description and simple comments about how only the wealthy have the luxury of not knowing how much coin they possess.
The Romany were particularly well done, in my opinion. The first portrayal was enough to make me worry the author shared the views of that period, but then as the story unfolds, a much more nuanced view comes into play.
If you like historical fiction with strong personalities, tangles built out of society’s expectations, a love story, and a touch of mystery, this is one not to miss.
P.S. I received this title from the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.