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Ibbotson has distinguished herself before in the historical-romance field (with Magic Flute, 1984, and A Company of Swans, 1985), but her newest sets her way apart from other genre writers. Here, she provides not only charm, but intelligent prose and a character with finely tuned sensibilities. Susanna Weber is an institution in turn-of-the-century Vienna, a dressmaker to mean-spirited, tightfisted Austro-Hungarian aristocrats and babbling nouveau riche Frauen alike. Her shop lies in the picture-postcard-perfect Madensky Square, a small, humming world she shares with an aging bookseller; the Schumacher family (six girls, one pregnant wife. and a husband longing for a male heir; a feisty watchdog named Rip; and, in an attic across the way, a Polish child prodigy who plays the piano all day, every day. Lots of little tragedies hit at the same time: Susanna's lover, Field Marshal Gernot von Lindenberg, fails to send for her, and then is involved in a duel; the Polish pianist runs away on the night before his first big concert; Frau Schumacher delivers another girl; Susanna's helper, an anarchist named Nini, falls in love with a rich New York banker; and the Viennese Minister of planning decides that Madensky Square must be razed, meaning that Susanna will lose her shop. But everything turns out well in the end for Susanna, and even for Herr Schumacher, who comes to realize that little girls can as easily be their father's heirs as little boys. A bauble, nothing more--but an extremely well-made one.

Pub Date: Oct. 17th, 1988
Publisher: St. Martin's