She Walks in Beauty (by Siri Mitchell)

I've never heard of Siri Mitchell, but this book was available for a while as a free download for the Kindle, under Christian fiction, and the blurb sounded interesting. So I downloaded it, and then read almost the entire book on a flight home from the UK.

'She Walks in Beauty' is 19th century historical fiction set in the debutante world, not of London but New York. Clara, the heroine, has to make her debut a year earlier than expected because her ambitious aunt wants her to marry the local heir.

Clara, like any teenager, is one moment excited, another terrified. She's inclined to be an academic, and the book opens with a conflict - she wants to study at university, although her father won't hear of it; her governess is fired, but although she does appear later in a minor role, that part of the story rather got lost.

The bulk of the plot involves Clara and her friend being launched into society - balls and dinners, and other events - and getting to know several young men. However, there are some rather unpleasant themes about the dangers of corsets, and other horrors which teenagers had to suffer in order to be thought attractive.

While the history is presumably accurate, I found that it intruded rather more than I wished into the storyline. There's also an underlying mystery about what happened to Clara's mother, who died some years before the book starts, which was intriguing enough to keep me wondering.

While I could believe in Clara despite her changeable moods, most of the other characters were pretty flat. Clara's father, in particular, seems a most unpleasant person by the end of the book whereas he's a typical traditional father earlier on. The Christian theme is extremely low-key, and I suppose this might appeal to teenagers who like historical fiction, but I wasn't particularly impressed.

However, it was ideal for reading on a rather dull flight, and certainly thought-provoking.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 11th May 2011

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