Well it just got a bit saucy up in here. I was looking for something light and sexy. Something that I can burn through. Preferably with corsets and bodices. And Mrs. Julien provided exactly the list I needed in her post So You Want to Read A Historical Romance provided me with exactly the information I needed to get started. In fact, not only is that list awesome, but her review of these books is far superior to my own, so you can go check that out here instead of reading the below.
After looking through Mrs. Julien’s post, I decided to check out the Wallflowers, a series that follows a group of four women in Victoria England who are for various reasons, undesirable as wives. Each, is missing either the class, the money, or the refinement that, combined, land a woman a member of the British peerage, a titled, wealthy man (AKA a peer). The four are, season after season, relegated to wallflower status while the single, wealthy men around them select women with the desirable combination of husband-catching traits. It should go without saying that not finding a husband is the worst possible fate for women in these types of books. In some cases this is because their families have lost their money and are relying on a good marriage to lit them up. In others, their parents will marry them off to an ugly rich old man if they can’t find someone themselves. In others, because they need titles to go along with their bags of money. Kleypas does an excellent job of demonstrating why a good marriage is essential to these women, while having a bit of a hint of humour about their position as avid husband hunters.
The series traces the lives of the four women as they strike up an unprecedented friendship and make a pact to help one another catch themselves a peer. Each book follows a “season” where the women focus on finding one of them a mate. The first, Secrets of a Summer Night, follows the most conventional plot and helps the readers get attached to the other characters. Annabelle Peyton is, arguably, the most beautiful of the wallflowers, but she is also poor and has no title. Having met with financial ruin after her father’s death, Annabelle is reduced to replacing her jewels with paste and mending old dresses. This season is her last chance to find a husband before she becomes unbearably old and relegated to spinsterhood. While Annabelle’s look get her plenty of attention from men who would have her as a mistress, she gets no offers of marriage. However, while she attempts to lure one man, she finds herself increasingly drawn to another who has sworn never to take a wife.
Secrets of a Summer Night is followed by It Happened In Autumn, during which the brash, unmannered and untitled Lillian Bowman finds her husband. Lillian and her younger sister, Daisy, come from the worse kind of new money: American new money. When their family brings them to England in hopes of adding titles to legitimize the family fortune, Lillian and Daisy find that their money doesn’t make up for a lack of sophistication. While Daisy comes across as a bit of a dreamer, the elder Lillian can never quite keep herself from ruffling feathers; especially those of the refined, snobby, Lord Westcliff, London’s most eligible aristocrat. Of course, perhaps the reason they bother each other so much is because their feelings aren’t quite what they seem. This was, perhaps, my favourite of the Wallflowers books. Most likely because I can relate to Lillian’s constant foot in the mouth, and how the temptation to rebel is just too powerful to resist sometimes, which can make playing sports one’s undergarments inevitable.
After It Happened In Autumn, the third book, The Devil in Winter follows the shyest of the Wallflowers, the quietly beautiful Evangeline Jenner, who stands to inherit a substantial fortune, one that her aunt and uncle want to get their hands on any way they can. Their plan, to keep her from her ailing father and to marry her off to her awful cousin, is thwarted when she overcomes her shyness and proposes to the villain from the previous novel. At the risk of alienating her friends, she throws her lot in with a man who has proven her has no heart and no desires above his own… or does he? This book was perhaps the least sexy in that it didn’t feature the same stolen moments in gardens and hidden corridors as the last few novels, but it was perhaps the most romantic in the way that Evie and her new husband find one another in their darkest moments and somehow make a life out of it. I loved it almost as much as I loved It Happened in Autumn, and Evie may have been my favourite of the wallflowers, with her quiet intelligence and hidden courage.
Scandal in the Spring, the last of the official Wallflowers books, focuses on the youngest and last wallflower, Daisy. Daisy’s now happily married friends must save her from the awful fate of marriage to the man her parents choose for her: her father’s young and aloof business partner, Matthew Swift. When Matthew arrives at Lord Westcliff’s estate, interrupting Daisy’s pursuit of her preferred peer, Daisy finds that maybe being with Matthew wouldn’t be such an awful fate after all. Daisy, a daydreamer, is probably the Wallflower I could least relate to, and because Matthew was a less forward love interest, the book felt slightly more polite and less clandestine than the others. However, I enjoyed seeing how the marriages unfolded in the background for the other characters, and liked that the structure allowed the other characters to continue to grow and evolve while they each took their turn in the spotlight.
Finally, the very last book in the series (edited to add: I just found out that there is a Wallflowers 0.5 story that I will treat myself to on Christmas should I manage this year’s cannonball), A Wallflower Christmas returns to the characters with a new take on the old plot. Rafe Bowman, Lillian and Daisy’s brother comes to England to find a wife. His parents have pre-arranged a meeting with the beautiful and proper Natalie Blandford, whose intelligent and prim cousin Hannah accompanies her everywhere. The wallflowers know one of their own when they see her and can’t help but start matchmaking. Not only was it fun to revisit the series, but at this point in the series, with them lined up side by side, it became clearer how different each marriage was and how Kleypas masterfully created 4 such unique and interesting men for her four unique and interesting women. What all of the men had in common was that they were working hard to make their way in the interesting and strange ways of the British peerage, either to become worthy of the place they were born with or to earn the place they want. Each of these men is sexy in his own right, and Kleypas manages to create compelling characters, while maintaining all of the steamy bodice-ripping escapist goodness you’re looking for in a book like this.
I would absolutely recommend this series to anyone who appreciates a little bit of escapist Victorian bodice ripping. Plus, any book that makes you say, “I can’t talk right now, he just loosened her stays…” is a winner.