I found this novel to be a little disturbing. It deals with the darker side of Chicago society in 1893, just after the closing of the Chicago World's Fair.
Our female lead character is Lydia, a librarian in a reading room. Her father recently died, leaving her and her mother in dire financial straits. The mother's solution to this problem is for Lydia to marry a wealthy man. As the novel opens, Lydia is, in fact, engaged to a seemingly wealthy man. Unknown to her, he has massive gambling debts and thinks he is marrying into a wealthy family.
Lydia is intrigued by a man who comes regularly to the reading room. He is Sebastian, a man who has managed to lift himself out of the poor tenements into which he was born. He is now the wealthy owner of a popular men's club with an illegal gambling den in the basement. Lydia's fiance has frequented Sebastian's club and owes him a large amount of money.
Lydia is an interesting character study. There is a sense of adventure hidden within her, perhaps covered over by her sedate librarian job. The adventure Sebastian offers is a bit dark. Lydia thinks, “But there was something about Sebastian Marks that made her want to do things that weren't proper.” When she finds out about his club, she demands he take her there. Even though it was an improper place for a woman of her state, going there made her feel like she was actually living. That visit to his club turns out to be a disaster but that does not stop them from doing something similar later, when Sebastian takes her to the abandoned fair site and into a locked display hall. He thinks, “He liked that they were standing somewhere that broke every rule of both society and its laws.” And, “She liked it too.”
I was a bit disturbed by this allure of the dark side and Lydia's curiosity about it. Their foolish adventures get them into trouble every time but they don't seem to learn from their experiences. It made me think Lydia was terribly immature in her spiritual discernment. She is not a character about whom I felt positive.
In addition to this unlikely romance, there is a murder and the ensuing mystery. We are set up pretty much early on to know who the bad guy is. The mystery is solved very quickly and too conveniently near the end of the novel.
Since this is a mystery/romance, we know the right guy and girl get together in the end. I did feel, however, that this happened without either of them really working through their spiritually immature character traits. There were no deep discussions of turning over a new leaf, etc. I felt the characters did not grow through their foolish experiences to a suitable new level of virtues. While there were some references to Christian faith, it did not have the character changing role it could have had. I really cannot imagine these two living happily ever after as a married couple.
I am taking part in a blog tour of this book and you can read other reviews here.
My rating: 3/5 stars.
Shelley Gray is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. She was also a finalist for the ACFW Carol Award. She lives in southern Ohio. You can find out more at http://www.shelleyshepardgray.com/.
Zondervan, 352 pages. You can purchase a copy here.
I received a complimentary egalley of this book through Litfuse for the purpose of an independent and honest review.