Author: Nicky Penttila
Genre: Fiction (Historical / 19th Century / Manchester / Class / Manufacturing / Political Unrest / Romance / Regency)
Publisher/Publication Date: Musa Publishing (12/20/2013)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour
Rating: I liked, very much!
Did I finish?: I did!
One-sentence summary: A young woman arrives in Manchester for an arranged marriage, only to find her prospects radically changed, and she struggles to make her way in the world amidst the political tumult in Manchester.
Reading Challenges: E-book, Historical Fiction
Do I like the cover?: Eh -- it's fine. It works as a non-garish romance cover.
First line: Nash first saw her as an apparition, a gilt London trinket set down by mistake at a dusty crossroads three miles north of town.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy.
Why did I get this book?: I have a soft spot for Regency romances but the political themes in the book's blurb really sealed the deal.
Review: I was taken by surprise more than once while reading this book, for it is both a Regency romance and a beefy historical novel of early 19th century Manchester. For anyone who tends to dismiss historical romances, hear me out before passing on this one!
The novel opens with a ludicrous plot thread that seems typical to romances: young Madeline Wetherby arrives at Shaftsbury Castle to marry the new Earl, Deacon Quinn, having grown up being told by Deacon's father that she was his intended. Her arrival is not greeted with enthusiasm, however, for her expectation comes as a stunning surprise to the Quinn family. None have heard of this engagement, and the louche Deacon is loathe to marry Maddie. Worse, Maddie learns her background is not what she was told and she has nothing to her name nor any prospects. Deacon's younger brother Nash, a prosperous Manchester merchant, marries Maddie instead, wooed by familial obligation, a tiny bit of guilt, and a cash gift from Deacon. (While this might feel spoiler-y, this, and more, is revealed in the book blurb.)
Although the basic start of the novel has the kind of will-they-or-won't-they fall in love tension one expects from a romance novel, the story really settles into a more rich, complicated plot: found family versus blood family, loyalty to class and one's social station, the changing of 'traditional' industry to 'modern' industry. Manchester in 1819 is a time of tumult and change, as the city chafes under lack of political representation in Parliament, and labor unions are forming an organizing, much to the panic and horror of the merchants and peers.
Penttila's novel is rich with historical detail, ranging from clothes to landscape to the political temperature among various individuals. The strength of this novel lies in the scope of the action rather than the relationship between Nash and Maddie. (Maddie, I'm sorry to say, was not a favorite character of mine; she had great potential and I loved her go-getting attitude, but at times she did things that made me put down the book in frustration!)
Still, even with my conflicted feelings for Maddie, this novel was engrossing and rich. I have to confess, there were moments this book reminded me of Thomas Hardy! Penttila's narrative style has a kind of dramatic flair to it that, when combined with Maddie's plight, made me think of the big, boisterous novels of the Victorian era that tackle social issues and romance with ease.
For those who like historicals that examine huge, sweeping issues of the day through the viewpoint of one or two characters, this is for you. Anyone intrigued by the Regency era, but eager for a setting outside of London and focused on people beyond the ton, this is for you.
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