What I Read in November 2016 Part V. . .Belgravia by Julian Fellowes--Historical Fiction/Romance/Regency Romance
In 1815 the beau monde of London congregated in Brussels for the peace celebrations, until Napoleon escaped Elba and returned to Paris. Now everyone is worried about their future. Everyone except James Trenchard, Wellington's victualler. Mr. Trenchard is the son of a market stall merchant and a scheming social climber. In this fraught atmosphere, his beautiful daughter Sophia has caught the eye of Edmund, Viscount Bellasis, son of an Earl. His parents would never approve and Mrs. Trenchard is well aware of that and hopes to warn her daughter off in time. Sophia is headstrong and is the means to her father's goal of smashing the gates of Society. Thanks to Sophia, the entire family is invited to the Duchess of Richmond's ball, which will change their lives forever. 25 years later back in London, James Trenchard has acquired wealth beyond his dreams but Society is still reluctant to allow him in. He's dancing on the edge of Society and is sure one day soon he will be one of them, if only old family secrets do not come to light. Soon Society and Trade will collide in a story of scandal, intrigue, scheming and love.
This book is a paint-by-the-numbers Regency/early Victorian set romance novel. I successfully predicted every single plot point long before it happened. The differences come in the period details. The story is set in 1841, not long after young Victoria ascended the throne. There's a new upper middle class who are blurring the lines between trade and gentry and who are pushing their way into the hallowed halls of the nobility. It is the setting and period details that Julian Fellows excels at. I really enjoyed the descriptions of everything: the occupations, the architecture, decor, clothing styles, etc. It made the story more interesting. Oddly enough, I couldn't put the book down even though I knew what was going to happen!
Most of the characters in the story are not all that likable. James is only slightly less obsequious than Mr. Collins and absolutely a scheming social climber. He will do anything to protect his family name. I sort of felt bad for him in his relationship with Oliver. I can see Oliver's point-of-view for sure. His father sends him mixed messages and James just doesn't understand how badly Oliver wants to fit in with his peers. Susan is undoubtedly named after Lady Susan, Jane Austen's scheming, anti-heroine. This Susan is also scheming. She's not a very nice person or someone I would want to be friends with. I did like her character development. I don't know whether she deserved what she got in the end. Lady Blanchard is not all that likable but she is a complicated character. Her story arc surprised me a little bit. There were times I liked her and times I didn't. Lord Blanchard's brother, Rev. Stephen and his son John are the obvious villains here. They're both cookie cutter characters taken from the encyclopedia of stock characters for 19th century romance novels. I didn't care for either of them and I don't know if I would have been as nice as Lord Blanchard. Though they share traits with Jane Austen's most famous villains, they're not as memorable or engaging. They are just plain awful.
The likable characters are meant to be very very good. There's the long-suffering Anne Trenchard, who does not share her husband's social climbing ambitions. I felt sorry for her but she also made some questionable choices and went along with her husband's schemes. Her character development is very good though. I liked how she handled the situation with Susan. Charles Pope is a saintly sort of fellow. If this book were written by a 19th century/early 20th century author, I'm not sure he would have such saintly qualities, being in Trade. He's so innocent and naive, I suppose because he's the son of a clergyman. He fails to see the obvious when it's in front of him and he also doesn't understand the way Society operates- yet. He has absolutely no character development whatsoever. He's just so sweet though, I can't help but like him. I really liked Maria. She's intelligent, strong and witty. She knows what she wants and won't let anyone stand in her way. She doesn't get missish, stoop to hand-wringing, tears or anything ridiculously feminine. She was easily my favorite character in a book filled with stock characters.
Read this if you like Julian Fellows's period dramas or if you are a newcomer to the 19th century romance genre. If you are a long-time reader of 19th century romance novels, you may want to skip this one or just read it for the different sort of setting.