by Siri Mitchell,
Bethany House, 2010
It's been a while since I've read any historical fiction, perhaps even longer since I've read any historical romance. What a beautiful reintroduction to the genre. Mitchell's writing - fluid, authentic to the period, creating vivid images - is as true a treat as any I've enjoyed.
Set in the Victoria era when debuts were fashionable, our heroine, Miss Clara Carter, is seventeen years old, her debut a year away. That's good, because she's not looking forward to it at all. She has a bright mind, an excellent tutor, and hopes to study medicine at Vassar College. Alas and alack, the man her father and aunt (her mother is dead) have their sights set on, returns earlier than expected from his European tour, and Clara's debut is moved up to the current season.
Franklin DeVries is a handsome and charming man, the heir to the DeVries fortune. As a result, he is very popular with the ladies, though it is Clara's best friend, Lizzie, who is her chief rival to win his affections. But when Clara meets and gets to know Franklin's brother, Harry, she is no longer confident that it's Franklin's affections she wants. Still, she wants to please her elders, and to get back for them the money they feel was stolen by the DeVries family.
To sway the odds, Clara's father, a physician whose methods are questionable, puts pressure on a respected journalist. Clara is feted in one newspaper, but mocked by reports in The Tattler. As the debut season progresses, Clara wonders why it appears that someone is out to get her, why her father seems to have detractors, and whether she can find happiness in a society so beset by competition and show. Is there no more meaning to life than the bondage of class?
Mitchell creates an excellent picture of the Victorian era, highlighting the dark side of society life (especially for women), as well as the situation of the poor in New York City. Clara is a likeable character with whom the reader strongly identifies, and the plot, though happily resolved at the end (as all good romances are), will pull at your heartstrings (as all good romances do).