The Lily of Ludgate Hill
Grade : B+

With The Lily of Ludgate Hill, Mimi Matthews returns to her Belles of London series, featuring four socially awkward friends in Victorian London who bond over their love of riding.

Six years after her father’s death, Lady Anne Deveril still lives in perpetual mourning to placate her grief-stricken mother, who has turned to spiritualism for comfort. Felix Hartford, who had been hoping to propose to Anne around the time her father died, still has feelings for her. But Anne’s desire to support her mother hasn’t changed, and neither has Hart’s short fuse, which sees him snapping when he feels frustrated or hurt.

Anne is a caretaker heroine, and when we first meet her, she is orchestrating a plot to get her mother to travel to Yorkshire so Anne can check on the wellbeing of her friend, Julia because, in the version of the events of the previous book (The Belle of Belgrave Square) that Anne has heard, Julia, an heiress, was kidnapped from her family home by an impecunious soldier. Anne’s scheme involves convincing Hart, who secretly writes a column in a spiritualism magazine, to call, in his writing, for people to visit Yorkshire. I enjoyed this version of Anne, who seems like her mother’s passive shadow but is in fact pulling strings to get what she wants. Unfortunately, as the book progresses, we see less of this Anne and more of an Anne who is convinced that she has agency, but who we, and Hart, can see is actually subordinate to her mother’s plans and whims.

In previous books in this series, Hart has been a pigtails-in-the-inkwell type of hero who teases and devils the heroine because he can’t show his heart. He is also described as someone who, in the past, was a reckless risk-taker. We do see glimpses of this here, but for most of the book, Hart is solid and dependable. Perhaps excessively so, as Hart takes on the responsibility of supporting his late father’s secret second family, which includes covering his reckless half-brother’s gaming debts. His father was revered as a moralist, and the revelation of his hypocrisy could crush Hart’s grandfather and ruin the political career of his conservative uncle.

My biggest complaint is that both Anne and Hart are unsustainably martyring themselves for family members who are not showing any signs of growth. Hart pays through the nose to cover up father’s past, even as Anne tells him that this can’t continue indefinitely. Meanwhile, Anne has supported her mother unwaveringly as she demands that they wear black, renounce sugar, and obsessively consult mediums and spiritualists, yet her mother is not only showing no signs of moving forward, she has even backslid into taking laudanum. Surely a heroine as smart as Anne is supposed to be should take a look at this situation and realize that ‘support’ and ‘enabling’ are two different things.

I would feel differently if these were character arcs, if Hart and Anne came to realize that they cannot set themselves on fire to keep other people warm. But while each clearly sees it in the other, neither sees it in themselves. It’s unsatisfying that both of them ultimately take action only because they are forced into it, not because they have grown.

Still, this book is incredibly readable. Part of this comes from the fact that Mimi Matthews is, at the sentence level, an extremely competent writer (although the metaphors here, such as the titular lily, are very heavy-handed). But it’s also due to the fact that, during my first read-through, I didn’t know how these issues would be resolved. If they had been resolved through growth instead of forced hands, the book would probably have landed in DIK territory.

I love a detailed and realistic setting, and Matthews always excels at that. Here, we see a meticulous, but never boring, depiction of Hart’s foray into trade, which permits him to support his ne’er-do-well relatives. He has purchased the exclusive rights to a patent in England for manufacturing a particular graphite-based type of crucible, which can be used to produce the pure metals needed for other industrial processes in the UK. In the epilogue, Matthews tells us about the real company she based this on and I love that she chose such a quirky and specific industry. She also makes Hart a compassionate mine owner who demands working conditions that are as safe as possible, and who restricts child labor in his graphite mines. Yet unlike in some stories, where the authors pat their altruistic heroes on the back and explain that clearly, their well-paid and safe workers work so much harder that the hero still turns a great profit, Matthews explores the costs of Hart’s concern for his workers. His fellow company directors push back against Hart’s values and call for him to mine overseas, where suffering people would be a) out of sight, out of mind and b) not white.

Overall, I’m glad to see that this book is much stronger than Matthews’s previous release, Appointment in Bath, but it’s not back to her peak yet. Still, Mimi Matthews remains an author I’ll always seek out. Good and competent historicals are thin on the ground, so even if it’s not a book you will come back to time and again, The Lily of Ludgate Hill is worth a read.

Grade : B+

Sensuality: Kisses

Review Date : January 17, 2024

Publication Date: 01/2024

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Caroline Russomanno

I'm a history geek and educator, and I've lived in five different countries in North America, Asia, and Europe. In addition to the usual subgenres, I'm partial to YA, Sci-fi/Fantasy, and graphic novels. I love to cook.

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