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Willaful Review: The Malorie Phoenix by Janet Mullany

Reviewing this brought to mind a moment from the t.v. show “Gilmore Girls” (a discussion of “The Donna Reed Show”):

Rory: My favorite episode –
Lorelai: Mm…tell me, tell me.
Rory: – is when their son, Jeff, comes home from school… and nothing happens.
Lorelai: Oh that’s a good one. One of my favorites is when Mary, the daughter, gets a part-time job… and nothing happens.
Rory: Another classic.

The Malorie Phoenix started off with a bang — literally. Pickpocket Jenny is seduced by the charming Benedict de Malorie at Vauxhall. She leaves with his stickpin, an heirloom jewel, and a bun in the oven. About ten months later, an ailing Jenny finds Benedict, hands him a baby girl (with the jewel sewn into her clothes) and vanishes.

Seven years later, Jenny’s new life as a courtesan ends with her kindly protector’s death. When some strangers hatch a bizarre scheme for her to impersonate a young woman Benedict once almost married, she embraces a chance to reclaim her child:

And now, possibly, she had the means to support her daughter. With independence and an income she could achieve a modest respectability. Roly had taught her many things, including how to manage investments and run a frugal but comfortable household… She could not and would not raise Sarah as the daughter of a courtesan.

The beginning of this historical had me settling in happily for a good read. It felt fresh and different, willing to go in unpopular directions — such as Jenny having had a good sex life with her old, fat protector — and take chances. The writing style seemed somewhat elliptical, with surprising gaps in the action, but that felt acceptable as a stylistic choice.  Even when the plot veered into utter absurdity with the impersonation plan, I tried to just let it flow over me and willingly suspend disbelief. I liked the beginning and I really wanted to keep liking the rest of it. (more…)