His Majesty’s Theatre: Not from the Stars (Book 1); But From Thine Eyes (Book 2); Truth and Beauty (Book 3); Beauty’s Doom (Book 4)
1903-1904. This series of four novellas follows the fortunes of young Ellie Roundtree from her unhappy childhood in the home of her dastardly uncle, to her meteoric success in the Edwardian world of the London theatre, followed shortly by her trial for the murder of her fiancé. The majority of the action takes place after Ellie runs away from her finishing school to join the theatre. Along the way we meet a plethora of other characters and subplots that somehow relate to Ellie’s story. Book 1 consists mostly of Ellie’s childhood and backstory about other characters in the novels, while the other books cover a much shorter span of time, about three months total. Each of the short books has a cliffhanger ending.
The author convincingly describes the world of Edwardian theatre, and I found that the strongest point of these books. Conroy writes effective descriptions of early 20th-century London, involving all the senses. Her descriptions give a good sense of the theatre and city life at that time. Despite this, I found the characterizations of all the characters to be shallow and lacking emotional depth. Poor Ellie loses her virginity, aborts a child, is practically raped by another actor, and goes on to have several other misadventures within the span of about one month, without any discernable internal agony or introspection. That timeline moved far too rapidly to be believable to me, and Ellie’s lack of any deep reaction to the events in her tumultuous life seems extremely unrealistic. The various subplots are all given equal precedence, which made for a chaotic read. Although somewhat reminiscent in tone of far, far better Gothic novels, I found this read confusing and unsatisfying. Lovers of the theatre world might enjoy the accurate and thorough descriptions of Edwardian drama within these novels.