Enslaved is a loose sequel to Vanquished, Hope Tarr’s excellent historical romance from last year. While not as good as its predecessor, this is still an engrossing read.
Gavin Carmichael, Patrick O’Rourke, Harry Stone, and Daisy Lake all live in the Roxbury House Orphanage. Roxbury House is actually a fairly pleasant place, but all four long for a real family. Gavin once had a real family, but his parents and little sister all died in a tenement fire. Gavin still has nightmares about it, but his friendship with the other three is helping him recover. Gavin feels a special protectiveness toward nine-year-old Daisy.
Gavin’s life changes when his stern grandfather, Mr. St. John, traces him to Roxbury and comes to claim him. St. John’s daughter (Gavin’s mother) had fallen in love with an Irish gardener and married him. The old man had disowned her, but is willing to overlook his grandson’s tainted ancestry, and so Gavin gets a home. It’s just not the kind of home he had dreamed of.
Years later, Gavin has grown up and is a successful barrister. He remains friends with Harry and Rourke but he lost track of Daisy. He knows that she was adopted by an acting family named Lake, and that she spent some time in France, but the trail has gone cold. In an attempt to cheer him up, Harry and Rourke take Gavin to a music hall in the east end of London to see the Parisian music hall star Delilah du Lac, who is making her London debut.
Delilah is Daisy. Her act is sweet, saucy, bold and even shocking, but she is talented and has that elusive something called star quality. Gavin, shocked when she makes him part of the act, takes her backstage. Daisy tells him that she wants more than anything to be an actress on the legitimate stage – not the music halls. Gavin has connections with Drury Lane and offers to use them to get her an audition. In return, he wants her to live with him for a month. Daisy agrees, thinking he only wants a fling like so many men she has known. Gavin, however, wants more.
Daisy and Gavin are simply wonderful characters. In a nice twist, he is the one who wants love, marriage and commitment while she is the one who is only looking for a short-term affair. Daisy has a past. She’s not a slut, but she has slept with men for both short and long term gain. Her past has hurt her and she is wary of letting anyone close – even Gavin, whom she loved and still loves. This sense of wariness causes her to keep secrets from him, and this leads to many misunderstandings on Gavin’s part. Daisy keeps her secrets, not because of silliness or pique, but because she guards her emotions in self-defense.
Gavin had love and family, lost them, and then just as he was finding love and a family with his friends in the orphanage, he lost it all again. Daisy represents all that Gavin yearns for. He is torn between his love for her, and the propriety that his grandfather instilled in him. Their relationship is simply wonderful and is the highlight of the book.
Now, for a few complaints. During the scene in the music hall, Daisy brings Gavin on the stage, flirts with him and then strips down to a thong. A thong?! In 1891?! I’ve seen many paintings and posters of the Moulin Rouge (where Daisy polished her stage act) and the dancers there always wore drawers, petticoats, stockings and garters. La Goulue was a famous dancer who was thought daring for having a heart embroidered on her drawers. Hard as I looked, I couldn’t find any source that showed a music hall entertainer wearing a thong in the 1890s. I know that partial nudity was not unknown in some of the seedier clubs, but that scene felt wrong.
Later, Daisy wins an acting audition by stripping down to a flesh colored body stocking as she recites Shakespeare. As this was an audition for a dignified director on the legitimate stage, it too felt wrong. Later Daisy meets W.S. Gilbert (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame) and varies between calling him Sir Gilbert (it would be Sir William) and Mr. Gilbert (which is correct – he was not knighted until 1907).
Had this been a wallpaper historical, I doubt that the scenes I have described would have bothered me so much, but this book captures the ambience of late Victorian London so well that the above scenes grated in a way they wouldn’t otherwise.
Despite a few jarring scenes, I can easily recommend Enslaved. Thoughtful and well-written historical romances are scarce on the shelf and even with a few problems, this book is too good to pass up.