And here we are on our final stop this month, a book that surprised me in how much I enjoyed it and made me wonder whether I might actually enjoy CBA historical fiction after all (who knew?!)…
She Walks in Beauty – Siri Mitchell
Synopsis (from the publisher):
The game is played amid banquets and balls.
Yet Clara soon wonders if this is the life she really wants. Especially when she learns her best friend has also set her sights on Franklin De Vries. When a man appears who seems to love her simply for who she is and gossip backlash turns ugly, Clara realizes it’s not just her marriage at stake–the future of her family depends on how she plays the game.
I really, really enjoyed this novel… which came as a rather big surprise. Banquets, balls, and idle social chatter aren’t typical fare for my reading tastes, but I decided to give this one a try anyway… expanding one’s reading horizons and all that. So imagine my surprise when I found myself truly intrigued by the story, the main character, and the unexpected situation she finds herself in!
Since I haven’t read much that’s similar, I can’t compare it to other books out there (though I know there are many set in this time period/similar situation) — but coming from someone who isn’t familiar with the genre, I found it to be a charming introduction. The characters felt realistically portrayed, and there was just the right balance of description and plot… which I mention only because I do know the genre often focuses a lot on things like setting, clothing, and food. There wasn’t too much of this to bore me, but just enough to give the reader the information she needs and provide the right tone to the novel.
I will say this, however… some of what happened in the story reminded me a great deal of Vin & Elend in the first book of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy. But that’s a good thing! I found the main character and the ‘hero’ to be likable characters (with flaws! huzzah!) that I honestly developed an affection for, and I thought the subplot with Clara’s best friend was skillfully and very realistically handled… when you read it, you’ll know what I mean, but it’s one of those situations where an author might often force a character to behave differently for the sake of the story (but as a reader, you know that would never happen simply due to that certain circumstance), but Mitchell keeps the character consistent and true to life.
If you’re not familiar with these ball & banquet-type stories, I think this is definitely an excellent introduction to the genre. If you’re nervous about reading a CBA book, I’ll let you know that the ‘Christian’ side of things in this novel is subtle and, in truth, not overtly present. I think one quick conversation mentions God, and there’s a moment of reflection, but there isn’t a drawn-out evangelistic scene, or random changes of heart, or anything that feels out of place or forced. It’s simply comparable to any novel where a character has a moment of reflection about her beliefs, and I commend Mitchell for keeping her novel realistic but still within the boundaries of CBA-approved storytelling.
And I also learned a lot about corsets, pessaries (WOW), and how our image-driven culture is simply a continuation of the obsessions and mistakes of generations before…
This is where I often say “it’s good for church libraries” and leave it at that… but in this case, I can tell you that I already have several friends and family members that I plan to recommend this book to, and it’s one that I’ll gladly keep on my shelf and possibly re-read in the future. I can’t speak to its contribution to the genre as a whole — as I’ve said, I’m new to this kind of book — but from a newcomer’s perspective, it was certainly worth the read. And on the strength of this novel’s writing, I plan to pick up more of Mitchell’s work in the future!
P.S. Want to know more about the book? Here’s a FAQ sheet with the author that’s worth a look!
Available now at your favorite bookseller from Bethany House,
a division of Baker Publishing Group.