In Penttila’s (A Note of Scandal, 2013, etc.) Regency romance, a young woman struggles to reconcile a tragic past and an uncertain future in a city on the brink of revolt.
Madeline Wetherby is no stranger to hardship. Daughter of an English viscount, she was orphaned as a toddler, rescued from an abusive uncle, and sent away by her godfather, the Earl of Shaftsbury. She’s educated on all things estate related and is promised to marry his heir, Deacon. Unfortunately, the earl, now deceased, kept his plans a secret, and when Maddie shows up at the castle expecting to marry, she finds that Deacon wants nothing to do with her—especially when it’s revealed she wasn’t born a Wetherby. Madeline’s prospects are bleak. She’s been brought up a lady only to learn that her roots are working class. It’s 1819 in Manchester, and she’s without relations to claim her or a husband to protect her. When Deacon’s brother Nash proposes to marry her, in exchange for some money from his brother, she has little choice but to accept. The novel follows the two as they struggle to find love. Set against the backdrop of a turbulent time in British history, Penttila’s novel shines a light on the plights of both women and the workers of England. Maddie’s struggle to find her identity and some measure of independence parallels the struggles of working-class Mancunians; caught between two worlds, belonging fully to neither, she fights to find her voice as the working class fights for theirs through parliamentary reform. History buffs in particular will enjoy exploring the Peterloo Massacre, one of the defining moments of British history, a conflict in which Maddie plays a central role. Though she suffers great loss, she’s ultimately rewarded for challenging social norms. Without overburdening the story, the many details surrounding the massacre provide rich historical context, but romance is still at the novel’s core. Fortunately, led by genuine and engaging Maddie, the story is refreshingly free of overly sappy scenes and heavy-handed descriptions.
An artful blend of history and romance.