Mistress of My Fate
In October 1789, fearing for her life, 17-year-old Henrietta Ingerton makes the fateful decision to flee from the only home she has ever known. But her sheltered upbringing is no preparation for what she will encounter in the Georgian demimonde as she sets off in quest for her true love.
Billed as the first of the confessions of Henrietta Lightfoot, Mistress of My Fate is narrated by an elderly Henrietta, a device that has inherent dangers because it places the reader at a distance from the youthful Hetty, making it harder to empathise with her.
This is a perfectly readable book, though occasionally I felt as if the plot was dictated more by the author’s research than by character development. Rubenhold, a historian with two nonfiction books under her belt, populates the novel with 18th-century personages, from the prince of Wales and prominent politicians to demimondaines and their keepers. She manages the delicate balancing act of making the language sound Georgian without lapsing into obscurity or introducing obtrusive modernisms. The ending too is neat enough to be satisfying, while offering tantalising hints of what is to follow in the second volume.
It’s unfortunate, however, that with 20 years of experience of early dance, I can spot when an author is bluffing in a ballroom scene. Among other things, a gentleman should always offer his hand, not his arm, to lead a lady to the dance floor; there is the usual confusion over the word ‘reel’, which has changed its meaning since the 18th century; minuets should only ever be performed at the beginning of a ball (never in the middle) and anyone caught ‘bouncing’ rather than gliding in a minuet ought to be taken out and shot. But I’m sure that’s of no importance to anyone but myself.