In her latest novel, Emma Donahue (Slammerkin) lifts all her characters from the pages of history and draws obvious parallels between that age and ours. An ongoing Revolution in France and the acts of terrorists are a part of daily conversation. Prime Minister Pitt, constantly raising alarms about sedition, is presented as the Georgian version of John Ashcroft. Against this backdrop, Eliza Farren, popular and respected actress, is courted by the wealthy, idle, and lovelorn Earl of Derby, who gave his name to the horse race. She welcomes friendly overtures from the widowed Anne Damer, aristocratically born and artistically inclined, who is a notable sculptress. When vicious gossip circulates about the women’s relationship, Eliza shuns her erstwhile friend. She continues to live a double life, performing on the stage and appearing in society on the arm of her devoted earl. Meanwhile, the wounded Anne finds solace in a sturdier relationship with the lively Miss Mary Berry, protégée of Horace Walpole. Eliza’s sense of self-preservation, rewarded by her elevation to the peerage, finds its contrast in Anne’s more private journey towards self-awareness.
An impeccably researched and insightful work, this novel deserves a warm reception by readers of quality historical fiction.