In this book, Willig takes a break from her Pink Carnation series and visits a different setting, the 1920s in England and Kenya. Addie Gillecote is a poor relation living with her aunt and uncle at Ashford Park. Her deceased parents were bohemian artists, so Addie finds it hard to adjust to her new life, which is bound by etiquette and propriety. Her only solace is the friendship of her cousin Bea, who is outgoing and confident where Addie is quiet and modest. The two girls grow up the best of friends, but when they become marriageable young ladies, their relationship changes forever. Bea marries a handsome young earl but soon finds herself unable to control her husband’s wandering eye. Desperately unhappy, she rushes into an affair of her own — with the man Addie loves. Addie and Bea’s story is framed by the contemporary trials of Clemmie Evans, Addie’s granddaughter, who accidentally uncovers a scandalous secret in her family’s history.
I really enjoy Willig’s Pink Carnation books; they’re a bit silly sometimes, but I love their exuberant treatment of romance and espionage during the Napoleonic Wars. This book has a much more serious tone, which is an interesting departure from Willig’s usual style. Also, where the Pink Carnation books primarily focus on romance, this book is really about the relationship between Addie and Bea. In fact, I think that Bea is the true main character in this novel. She is catty and manipulative and such an unconventional protagonist that the novel felt unique and original to me. The modern-day sections of the book were quite boring by comparison; I didn’t care about Clemmie or her job or her romantic problems at all. It’s understandable that Willig would want to stick with her tried-and-true formula, but I’d like to see her attempt a book without the contemporary framing story. Overall, though, I was very impressed with this book, and I hope Willig continues to write books outside the Pink Carnation universe!