In The Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies by Alison Goodman, twin sisters Ladies Augusta and Julia Colebrook are in a unique position. They are 42 years old, and unmarried, but have their own money. Like other women their age in Regency London, they don’t have a lot of power, but unlike other “spinsters,” they are not 100% beholden to male relatives or partners.
So what do they do? Become vigilantes, of a sort, and help women and girls in need by doing things like getting back letters a man is using to blackmail his former lover, escape abusive husbands, rescue children from being forced into sex work, and infiltrating a women’s mental institution that is using its patients for profit.
The story is told from Lady Augusta’s point of view, and when she decides this is what she’s going to do, she thinks, “For myself, I no longer believed that this world was mere preparation for the next. This was all the life I would have, and I had to do as much with it as possible.”
While it’s set in Regency London, as many of the historical romances I read are, it’s not a romance. Instead, it’s billed as a “feminist historical mystery series,” which I think is accurate. It doesn’t shy away from the horrors, mostly against women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community, and the mentally ill, of the time. There are romantic elements, but not strong one, and the overarching story is under-resolved. I suspect there will be a sequel.
It reminded me of two recent books I reviewed here, Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty and Knockout by Sarah MacLean, but it doesn’t do the thriller element as well as Apples Never Fall, or the feminist vigilantism as well as Knockout. Instead, it’s a series of episodes that are too loosely strung together. There are several minor plots that run through the book, but they don’t tie those elements together tight enough.
Will I read the next book? Maybe. It’s not bad for establishing a new series. Hopefully, some of those issues will be fixed in the next one, if there is one.
Nail polish: Wren by Zoya.
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