Lillian Grace Haswell toils in her father’s apothecary shop, preparing herbs and remedies by rote. Still she is haunted by memories of her mother’s mysterious disappearance. Villagers whisper the tale, but her father refuses to discuss it. All the while, she dreams of the world beyond — of travel and adventure and romance. She is a young girl, after all even if her father wishes she was a young boy.
When her uncle and aunt offer to host her in London and invest in her upbringing, Lilly discovers the pleasures and pitfalls of fashionable society and suitors, as well as further clues about her mother.
Will Lilly find what she is searching for — the truth of the past and a love for the future?
I’ve heard a lot of praise concerning his-rom books of Julie Klassen. Apparently the lady strives to be as close to a modern Jane Austen as it is only possible. I decided to check her writing and borrowed this one from my library – the cover art looked so lovely!
I grant it: the apothecary parts of the novel were the best. According to the author the preparations for the book took a lot of effort: she visited at least two London museums dedicated to the history of pharmacy and did a lot of research into 19th century medical practices. However, when it comes to the ‘Austenesque’ atmosphere I’ve found nothing, literally nothing to praise the author for. I got an impression that the whole historical context was nothing more than an excuse to dress your heroine in a nice frock and shock you with some leeches and blood-letting.
Now some serious carping.
Honestly, did Miss Lillian Haswell have to have so many (at least 4) suitors interested in her humble person at the same time? Sometimes it felt as if she was one big jar of catnip surrounded by determined tom cats. Let me emphasize here the fact that the girl in question was neither rich nor exceptionally beautiful nor well-connected nor especially flirtatious. Still as soon as she appeared on the horizon blood was boiling and hormones surging in all eligible bachelors. None of Jane Austen heroines, not even those really lovely, vivacious and rich, enjoyed such a popularity. Apart from that it was rather strange Lillian liked virtually all of her suitors equally well as if they differed only in their unwaveringly handsome appearances. Oh wait, I know…it was done to keep the reader guessing for about ¾ of the entire story which happy gent would score and become Mr. Lillian Haswell. ;p
After a while the eligible suitors finally started dropping out of contention for Lilly’s hand. It still irked me because it had nothing to do with developments integral to the plot or the characters. What’s worse, it sounded spurious. “Oh, so-and-so just dissed the ability of women to work; he cannot be the right guy, let’s get rid of him.” „Oh look, the doctor needs Lilly only as a crutch, he doesn’t love her. Down with him and his good looks.” “Oh, this journeyman suddenly started acting all spiritual and suggested a prayer. Good boy. Better bump him to the top of the heap.” It felt and read rather badly.
And then I stumbled on a description of a birthday celebration with a real birthday cake. Really Mrs. Klassen? Really? Can you remind me of any birthday celebration described or even mentioned by Jane Austen in her novels? Was it a 19th century custom prevalent among shopkeepers and working classes? Somehow I doubt it but please, never hesitate to correct me if I am mistaken.
Finally the writing style. I did expect something far better. Not only the ‘mystery’ surrounding the disappearance of Lillian’s mother the author taunted me with from the very beginning was never properly employed, it also petered out and dissolved into nothing. Mind you it was supposed to be one of the main motivations of the female lead and then all of a sudden it became a non-issue. What’s more, the majority of the book was written in a third-person limited narration, that of Lilly, but the beginning and end scenes were, for reasons known only to the author, written in 1st person POV. After the 50% mark (roughly) I suddenly encountered a handful of scenes written from the POV of a couple of Lilly’s suitors, just randomly dropped into the text here and there. It looked as if Mrs. Klassen’s editor decided the novel was too short and she, in order not to waste more time, decided to add some material written with a quite different type of narration in mind. No comment.
I don’t think I will be reading any other Julie Klassen pseudo-historical romances soon – for more than one reason. If you want to write something historical you must be aware that it is a difficult task as it takes far more than just using some quaint words, dressing characters in oldie-worldie clothes and following old customs. If you can’t recreate the particular atmosphere of a period perhaps you shouldn’t bother at all. Personally I would be far more comfortable if Lilly were a contemporary pharmacist babe, having several affairs and enjoying her clubbing years before choosing Mr. Right. Just imagine the selling potential of all those steamy sex scenes ;p.