A few months ago, I was very surprised and flattered when Rose Lerner emailed me to ask if I would like a review copy of True Pretenses. Having read and thoroughly enjoyed In for a Penny and Lily Among Thorns, I happily accepted.
And hurrah! True Pretenses is a lovely book, and I can recommend it without reservation. It’s exactly the kind of historical romance I really like–focused on ordinary people, with texture to the setting and awareness of the social world without being completely bound by it. (For other writers who do this well, see Courtney Milan and Cecilia Grant)
Plus, I immediately liked both Ash and Lydia. The ways in which they’re similar really worked for me, and I have a soft spot for over-zealous older siblings (NOT like I ever was one myself, OH NO). They’re both flawed, deeply, and in ways that create a lot of the tension that carries the story. But they’re also intensely sympathetic, and I completely believed in their relationship.
There’s also a lot here about the stories we tell ourselves about our lives and about other people. Ash and Lydia are both guilty of rewriting their lives, of being oblivious to how even the people they love the most see the world. I really appreciated the way this strand was written; it could easily have been frustrating to read and instead it was just slightly heart-breaking.
Both Ash and Lydia are to certain degrees outsiders looking in, Ash more so than Lydia. He’s spent a long time holding his bitterness in. Lydia has a good heart–she truly cares about people–but as Ash thinks early in the book, for her it’s an academic question. I really liked the way both the sincerity of her motives, and the limitations of them, were pointed up. At the same time, there’s lots of interesting historical detail about political parties and machinations, which Lydia cares a great deal about. It worked for me, even though I didn’t particularly care about that aspect, because I enjoy competent characters who have interests.
Even more than all of this, though, I loved Ash and Lydia’s slow journey to trusting each other, and even more to trusting themselves. Lerner has a deft hand with situations that might otherwise be melodramatic, mainly because she trusts readers to get things without a lot of heavy-handed pointing. For me, this means that I can concentrate on the relationship between the characters and not fuss about the rest. And by the end of the book I really believed that these two people could be happy together, had grown into themselves enough to trust and be trusted.
Book source: review copy provided by the author
Book information: 2015, Samhain; adult historical romance