When I pick up a novel written by a former historian I always wonder if it will turn out to be over-heavy on the factual detail, but I need not have worried with this rumbustuous adventure by Hallie Rubenhold.
Set in the late 18th century when society is arguably at its most decadent, the book begins the story of innocent 17 year old girl as she flees Melmouth House after the death of her 'sister', for which she has the blame. Penniless, she meets George Allenham who sets her up as his mistress, and gives her a new name. A new life begins, and the somewhat green Henrietta Lightfoot thinks she has found her one true love.
When he mysteriously disappears, she must track him down in order to survive, and the rest of the book concerns this search for her lover as she struggles from one dangerous location to the next. By the end of the book we have been thoroughly entertained in brothels and the seamier side of Covent Garden, but the central mystery remains thus leaving Henrietta Lightfoot with more work to do.
There are more volumes of the tale to come, all to be published by Doubleday, hence the few loose ends at the conclusion of the book. This was still a satisfying read though, and if I suspected that the book might be racy (subtitled as it was "The Confessions of Henrietta Lightfoot") I found there was nothing offensive about the descriptions of Ms Lightfoot's encounters with bawds, men with wandering hands, and other gentlemen of ill-repute. The historical detail is beautifully done.
What will determine your enjoyment of this novel is the "voice" of its heroine. It begins by adressing you as "My dear reader" and Henrietta continues to do this throughout. The effect of this is to distance the reader from the drama, as it is always being told as if it is a piece of gossip. This makes the voice very intimate, but also means the reader never quite enters Henrietta's head, so the tale is told in the same tone throughout, a bit like a visit to a favourite eccentic aunt. This will probably work well for some readers but not others. If you like Henrietta's style then you have a treat in store - two more volumes are scheduled.
I chose this to review from the Amazon "Vine" programme, and it has not yet been released - when it is, I'm sure it will appeal to readers looking for a well-researched lightweight historical romp.