I’d had this book recommended to me a few times as a great historical sapphic romance. I had been keeping an eye on it, and by total chance I won the author’s Halloween giveaway. Given a choice of ebook or audio, I of course took the audiobook – and binged it over one weekend! So thank you Rose Lerner for the amazing audiobook! I read it very quickly in November but sadly got behind on writing the review…
Goldengrove’s towers and twisted chimneys rose at the very edge of the peaceful Weald, a stone’s throw from the poisonous marshes and merciless waters of Rye Bay. Young Tabby Palethorp had been running wild there, ever since her mother grew too ill to leave her room.
I was the perfect choice to give Tabby a good English education: thoroughly respectable and far too plain to tempt her lonely father, Sir Kit, to indiscretion.
I knew better than to trust my new employer with the truth about my past. But knowing better couldn’t stop me from yearning for impossible things: to be Tabby’s mother, Sir Kit’s companion, Goldengrove’s new mistress.
All that belonged to poor Lady Palethorp. Most of all, I burned to finally catch a glimpse of her.
Surely she could tell me who had viciously defaced the exquisite guitar in the music room, why all the doors in the house were locked after dark, and whose footsteps I heard in the night…
I could not put it down (well, pause the audio) as soon as I started it. It’s not a straight up rewriting of Jane Eyre, which I was fairly afraid of because I’m not really into Jane Eyre so that was a clear benefit for me.
It is still similar in the concept of the governess coming to a house to help with the kids and being tempted by the patorns, and the wife that is kept isolated because “mad” or sickly or any other reason used in gothic novels. One aspect that I really loved though and that I found truly original was the inclusion of Jewishness, and Jewish culture in the 19th century. Sadly not something we see a lot in historical romances. I really loved that the two main characters had that in common, and clearly a lot of research went into making this as historically accurate as possible.
The references to other books of the time like Pride and Prejudice and even Dangerous Liaisons were lovely, and I think it added some lovely touches of worldbuilding – making you feel like they’re in the culture of the time – but also helped build the relationship between the two characters other than “we’re together in a shitty, shitty situation”.
It also really grappled with the concept that abusers can be seemingly perfectly nice people, gentlemen, etc. to others – even to other people they live with! I enjoyed that depth of character and of, not exactly worldbuilding per se but understanding of these dynamics in context. Even though it was hard to listen to at the same time.
As a side note, I read another review that criticized the writing because the “seemingly pure and innocent” MC ended up having oral sex with another woman and that’s exactly what a pure and innocent gal would NOT do. Whoever wrote that review – made me pick up the book even quicker! But I also want to say… Deborah is absolutely not “innocent” in that way, and I actually enjoyed that she wasn’t a green young girl just coming out of school – she’d worked on her own for a while, had lived in a boarding house where she had a network of friends, and one close friend who’s a past lover. It made the isolation of Goldengrove all the more tangible in comparison, and I enjoy more mature characters anyways.
I was not sure what to think of Jael at the beginning, she is really rough and sometimes cruel, but yaknow what, if the man you’d trusted to love you had locked you in a room for year with only a nurse-jailer for company, I think you’d be too. She actually grew on me in ways I didn’t expect.
I found the ending “twist” (highly foreshadowed) quite interesting both in how Deborah carries it out – and the way it affects everyone, including Jael, and it made sense to me that they weren’t overly… close… after having been through all that, so the ending was quite satisfactory in context.
Overall I would recommend if you’re into dark, gothic romances, and queer / wlw historical romance.