CM . . .
. Volume XXIV Number 31. . . .April 13, 2018
Suitors and Sabotage.
New York, NY: Swoon Reads/Feiwel and Friends (Distributed in Canada by Raincoast Books), 2018.
325 pp., hardcover & ebook, $23.50 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-250-14565-9 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-250-14566-6 (ebook).
Grades 8-12 / Ages 13-17.
Review by Lisa Doucet.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
Looking over her shoulder, Imogene squinted at the looking glass, trying to see the pearl buttons running down the length of her back. She had managed all but the last few. Now she could neither reach the rest nor see them. Cream on cream. Who thought that a brilliant idea?
“Mama,” she said with a snort into the empty bedroom. And then she huffed, pulled out the vanity chair, and flopped elegantly onto the edge of the seat. It was a beautiful silk gown, with tucks and ribbons, one made for her Season in London and far too grandiose for the country. Still, Mama had insisted. Imogene had to make the right impression.
She could have argued that if she had not already made the impression, Ernest would not be back in their company. Imogene sighed instead.
Mama did not realize that they – she and Ernest – were trying to get to know each other, assessing character, not affluence. Mama thought it the same thing, but it most certainly was not. Imogene wanted to know Ernest’s interests, his pursuits, not how to lead him around on a short leash – whatever that meant.
With another huff, Imogene rested her elbow on the small table and then her head in her hand…and huffed a third time. She could huff as much as she wanted without reproach or queries. She was alone. There was no need to double up in Shackleford Park; there were plenty of rooms, enough to accommodate all the guests and then some. Imogene was installed in a room that had been hers to use every summer for almost ten years – a room that seldom heard huffing. This was a change.
This was a new Imogene, waiting for Kate to help her with her dress and put up her hair. This was not the Imogene of a few hours ago, looking forward to an idyllic stay at a country estate, a relaxing visit that included getting to know Ernest Steeple. No. This was a foolish girl, a befogged girl. A young lady with a noodle for a brain. A ninny. A dunderhead. A…
She could call herself names all evening, but nothing could alter the unalterable.
It took a moment – a mere moment – for Imogene to look down on the Steeple brothers and realize that while she thought very highly of Ernest, her foolish, foolish heart had practically thrummed out of her chest when Ben had looked her way.
Ben, not Ernest, had stolen her heart, and she had to get it back.
Imogene Chively is painfully shy but nonetheless aware that the time has come for her to marry, and that Ernest Steeple is the young man that her father has deemed to be an acceptable match for her. In order to give Imogene and Ernest a chance to get to know one another, Ernest and his younger brother Ben arrive for a brief stay at the Chively estate. As Imogene and her best friend Emily spend time with the Steeple brothers, Imogene gets to know Ernest and to recognize his many admirable traits. While she tries to convince herself that she could love him, she ultimately must accept the truth: that she values his friendship but that she does not love him. At the same time, she must also acknowledge her growing attraction to Ben. However, this proves to be further complicated by the fact that Emily, her dearest friend and confidante, has also fallen for the charming and affable Ben Steeple. Imogene desperately wants to support her friend, and, once she is absolutely certain that she cannot accept Ernest’s proposal, she wants to be fair to him and to let him down gently. But with so many secrets to keep as she wrestles with her own wayward heart, Imogene struggles to know what to do.
Meanwhile, Ben enthusiastically sets out to support his brother in his quest to win Imogene’s affections. But once they all begin to spend time together, Ben finds himself irresistibly drawn to Imogene and her quiet confidence and artistic nature. Wrought with guilt, he tries to ignore his feelings and to help Ernest earn her favour. Nevertheless, he remains hopelessly smitten with his brother’s soon-to-be betrothed.
And against this backdrop of forbidden longings more sinister events are at work. A series of accidents occur that prompt Imogene to believe that someone is intent on doing Ben serious harm. While the boys dismiss this idea, Imogene and Emily become increasingly concerned for Ben’s safety. Ultimately, a serious mishap leads to numerous revelations that bring all of the romantic undercurrents to a head.
Fans of Regency romance novels will once again find much to love in Cindy Anstey’s latest offering. True to form, Suitors and Sabotage artfully depicts the societal norms of the day and the delightful formality of speech and behavior that governed social interactions. The language and dialogue are appropriately formal and elegant, providing a glimpse into the time period. However, the characters still manage to spring vividly to life as Anstey shifts from multiple points of view. In that way, she adeptly conveys the angst that both Imogene and Ben experience as they agonize over their hidden feelings for one another, rendering them as highly sympathetic and relatable characters. Moreover, the relationships in the story are well-drawn and believable as Imogene displays staunch loyalty to her best friend Emily, and Ben similarly is unwavering in his devotion to his brother. More poignant still are the ways in which both Emily and Ernest each manage to overcome their own feelings of hurt and betrayal when the truth comes out and are able to assist Ben and Imogene in finding their way to each other at last.
As in her previous books, the author also adds an element of mystery to the story. In this case, the mystery takes the form of a number of suspicious accidents and events that suggest that someone may have ill-intentions toward Ben. However, this aspect of the plot serves mainly to further the development of the romantic entanglements rather than adding significant drama or tension. The characters and their inner turmoil are always first and foremost as the author allows their story to unfold.
Imogene turns out to be a multi-layered character whose noted shyness belies a strength of character that clearly emerges as the story progresses. Imogene has no desire to upset her volatile father, nor to hurt the kindhearted Ernest. But once she determines that she cannot love Ernest in that way, she never wavers in her decision to decline his proposal, even though she has a good idea of what her father’s reaction will be. The fact that she has such supportive allies in Emily and Emily’s parents may feel overly convenient but is nonetheless satisfying insofar as readers will be keen to see things come together for this forthright protagonist who struggles to honour everyone’s feelings but her own. And while the ending may be a little too perfect to be entirely believable, it is exactly what readers will have been hoping for right from the very beginning. Suitors and Sabotage will captivate Anstey’s current fans and earn her many new ones.
Lisa Doucet is Co-Manager of Woozles Children’s Bookstore in Halifax.
© CM Association
University of Manitoba
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