About the book:
Author: Susan May Warren
Publisher: Summerside Press
Publication Date: 2012
Series: “Daughters of Fortune” (book 2 of 3)
Genre: Christian Fiction, Historical
The Story: Coming from a fatherless family, Lilly Hoyt was ripped from the only home she’d ever known by her mother who lost Lilly’s father before Lily was even born. Raised as a socialite in New York, Esme was needed home again when her father – a newspaper baron became gravely ill, which in turn made her decision to pack up her rebellious teenage daughter and return home easier. Now “all grown up” at nineteen, Lilly is restless and unhappy in her surroundings. Cousin Rosie is the exact opposite. She embraces the care-free Parisian life, risqué fashions and trends, and has dreams of the stage but she doesn’t know if she is capable of the demands such a life requires. Her mother Jinx created her own scandal following the death of Rosie’s father but she will stop at nothing to see that her daughter does not follow in her footsteps – no matter how much Rosie hates her.
Before her mother can thwart plans, Rosie helps Lilly escape the loving grasp of her step-father – a rebellion that inspires Rosie to plot for much the same. Broken by life, both girls make choices that not only leave them empty but heartbroken. Years pass leading to an even greater rift between the two young girls – will life’s lessons teach them they are far from wise to the world… or will they ignore the pull that is urging them back to a place of belonging?
My thoughts: Despite its seeming sullenness and eventual depressing premise all-around, I fell completely, head-over-heels in love with Warren’s debut novel in this series, Heiress. It reminded me of the ITV series Downton Abbey in ways that I cannot explain but was also a dark, brooding sort of “fairy-tale” that, irrespective of its tragic circumstances was still (somehow) charming. The first novel chronicled sisters Esme and Jinx’s stories, and now Warren gives us their daughters’ sagas. In the beginning – which opens with the two girls gallivanting around Paris; one very reluctant to embrace the scandalous roaring twenties, the other forgetting who she is in the process of it – Baroness reminded me a great deal of the first book. I almost wanted to wish away that prospect. Going into the story with Heiress still so firmly rooted in my mind, I partially expected that the story would still be “dark,” but I also didn’t want to see the girls go down the same roads that their mothers did as young women.
Delving into the more “intricate” parts of the book, I was relieved that the author slowed time down and eased up the pace. It almost seemed as if Warren was in a race for some sort of prize in writing Heiress – and it wasn’t pleasant to me. Covering a span of four years instead of twenty allows for more detail and character development, and if there is one thing she does not skimp on, it is the “little things” that makes this novel such an enchanting period read. There are breathtaking costumes, intricate ball rooms, flappers, night clubs filled with patrons puffing on their cigarettes, and everything we can imagine from the 1920’s – anything and everything prevalent to that era is discussed and described in beautiful detailing. I want so badly to say that all of this is just one-part of what winds up being a beautiful story written as a sweet narrative through and through but in all honesty, it is not. That could be what is a potentially off-putting narration to readers most. Everything in Baroness is driven by sadness and heartache and characters in need of either forgiveness or forgiving. Each time the reader experiences a a glimmer of happiness through a character, something from their past rears up to haunt them and effectively removes the emotion. Somehow none of that lessens the beauty of the story-telling – or in my case, the desire to read the book in record time. If there is one good thing to be said about this, it would be just that. Characters are never allowed an easy way past their troubles – they are always held to answer for the choices they make… some of which are fatal.
The strength here lies in these the characters. They range from rouge young men willing to prey on a girl’s nativity to parents fighting to protect their children to strong-willed heroines who, no matter their circumstance desire, above all to live a life that is going to fuel their passions. Both girls spend nearly the entire novel searching for their "place," whatever it is that is going to help them thrive in the world. Rosie thought she’d found hers on the arm of not just a cad but a mob boss while Lilly thought her place could only be in the past – on the ranch she still dreams of. Despite their human error and misjudgments, they are still each likable, crafted by an author whose talent, I’ve discovered lies far beyond “fluffy” Christian fiction. There are a lot of painful mistakes in these girls’ short lives, and I deeply did regret that Rosie’s life so mirrored that of her mother’s – and even, in many ways Esme’s. Her rebellion and notion that she was “above” her mother’s reproach led to a tragedy that I can only hope Rosie will come out of. As before, some Christian readers may be bothered that Warren doesn’t include a strong spiritual aspect to the story. All of the characters broken souls who sometimes only seek God when they are hurting – namely the one time, Lilly feels so empty and torn up about her past that she attends a meeting held by a travelling preacher. Although unusual for my choice genre of fiction, I’ve loved this series thus far. The writing is well-realized and well-rounded – Susan’s talent cannot be denied – the story itself is intriguing, and there is a pull that is unexplainable. Next up in the series is Duchess, and while I do not know how everyone else feels, I know I am beyond excited to read the next, and possibly last chapter in the Worth legacy. I only wish that in reaching this conclusion, there would be more glimmers of joy - much like there was for one character in this ending (I am going to be so mad if Warren shatters her world) among the sadness and consequences of choices.