I had the good fortune of reading this novel in manuscript form a couple years before its publication. I was very glad when it came out, and ordered a copy immediately, despite disappointment with the publisher’s cover design.
The story is an historical romance, set in early 19th-century England. It concerns an encounter between Eliza Farrell, a young lady who earns a very modest living telling fortunes, and a notorious upper-society rogue whose behavior does not at all fit the character that she insists is dictated by his stars.
I suppose it’s understandable for a publisher to start from those basic facts and package the book as they did. The trouble is that I, at least, normally would not have considered picking up a book that looked like this. And yet I already knew that the writing inside is superb.
Well, there is a saying about not judging a book by its cover, and this one proves the rule.
Because of the writing, I saw this not as chick-lit or even as a romance but as literature. The story, as it unfolds, is captivating and just keeps building momentum as it goes along. The inner complexity of the main characters, too, is wonderfully handled (their stray thoughts and aborted impulses, their ways of sorting out problems). There’s even strategically placed humor.
The author has a lot of arcane knowledge of astrology, which she puts to good use in developing the story. I think all well-written fiction in which a character wields some such gift has an advantage. (Leif Enger’s Peace Like a River comes to mind.) Eliza’s inner doubts and striving to do well make it all the more believable (and make her easy to identify with), especially when she begins questioning whether she should have given more weight to Uranus in her calculations.
The social gulf between Eliza and Lord Hartwood echoes the Pygmalion story, which the author surely had in mind. What I particularly like is the prospect of some kind of redemption. Fairly early on, it becomes evident that Hartwood is at least as much in need of rescue as is Eliza, and that despite their expectations the two of them will be good for each other. I read entirely too few stories that take such an upbeat direction.
Stephen Gallup is the author of a memoir, What About the Boy: A Father’s Pledge to His Disabled Son. He has an eclectic interest in books and authors, and reviews books as part of his passion for the written word. He blogs at fatherspledge.com.