I think it was in the first chapter where I decided that there was no way I was going to finish this book --
the crap out of it!
The scene is this: Duke of Clermont Robert Blaisedel has retreated from the gala to find a spot of quiet in the library. Minnie, our heroine, has done the same, unaware of his presence. When Minnie's fiance comes barging in, she takes refuge behind a davenport and we overhear the ass's conversation with his friend about his intentions towards his intended. Needless to say, they're awful, and soon the pair retreat.
Robert reveals himself to Minnie and when he tells her that she should come down twenty minutes after she does, she tells him this: "The beautiful thing about marriage is the right it gives me to monogamy. One man intent on dictating my whereabouts is enough, wouldn't you think?"
With this one sentence, I fell in love. Minnie's perspective on marriage is bleak, but her submission to society has its fair share of defiance and anger as well. She rages against the limits society has placed on her for her gender, and absolutely loathes having to hide herself behind a pleasant and dull facade (due to reasons of preservation which are revealed later on in the book). Minnie, though it takes her a while to admit it, wants and deserves more from life, and once she begins moving, she TAKES it. Her intelligence is quiet and sneaks up on you when you least expect it. I never quite knew what she was going to say to Robert. She acts on her own agency to protect herself and her family, and by god, how could I not fall in love?
Another beautiful aspect to this book is her friendship with Lydia. Theirs is not a peripheral relationship, added in just to show the heroine's sociability. Her bond with Lydia is deep and forged from a whole life behind them fraught with experiences, and you can feel it through the pages. I'm delighted to find out that Lydia has her own story, because she is certainly a pleasure to read.
Our hero doesn't fall too far behind these two amazing ladies. Robert's family has a fairly checkered past, which he feels keenly. He's determined to right the wrongs of the past, and has to be commended for turning out all right despite what was almost assuredly the loneliest childhood ever. I loved watching him be constantly amazed by Minnie. He doesn't fight his attraction to her at all. His competence in all of his dukely affairs is charmingly offset by his complete inexperience in matters of the heart. I delighted in reading a handsome eligible word vomit all around the woman he was in love with.
So yes, to cut short an increasingly lengthy review: Read this book if you like heroines who refuse to be tied down by their circumstances. Read this if you like female friendships that take on a life of their own and make you want to call a girl friend up. Read this book if you want a story where issues of social justice and gender equality mix with quick snark that doesn't seem like snark and a heady romance. Read this book, period.