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A strange thing, but this novel reminded me of Wallace Stevens's Anecdote of the Jar -- Marlowe is like the Jar, out of place in the Maxwell, the Earl of Dane's household -- but she is there because the earl's brother, Brook Derring, believes she is the lost Lady Elizabeth Grafton, only daughter of the Marquess of Lyndon. It's a jarring juxtaposition (pun intended) to her current life as a street thief and member of the Covent Garden Cubs.
She could not imagine owning three gowns at once, much less wearing all three in one day. She did not belong here, in this world where everyone used pretty words and lived like kings. Even if she were this Lady Elizabeth, what would her parents think of her? They would be horrified that she knew nothing of their rules.
- loc 1004
There is a Cinderella moment in the story when Marlowe decides that she wants the chance to see if she is, indeed, the missing lady and accepts Susanna's offer to clean her up. The transformation doesn't just happen to Marlowe, because Maxwell is also changed by the experience. Marlowe opened Maxwell's eyes (and heart) to see beyond his social sphere.
If the duchess ever learned who Marlowe really was, the Dane name would be tarnished for decades to come. His family honour was not something he took lightly. But when he was with Marlowe, his upper-class sensibilities seemed so foolish and inconsequential, which was amazing in itself. He'd spent the last few years of his life proposing bills to keep the classes separated. Why now was this girl from the lowest class charming him?
- loc 1802
I don't usually notice these things, but the four-act structure is very clear in Galen's book:
Act 1: Marlowe/Elizabeth's past and current life
Act 2: Her discovery
Act 3: Marlowe/Elizabeth and Maxwell
Act 4: Facing the enemy and resolution
While the title focuses on the hero, this story is truly the heroine's journey -- Marlowe overcomes three obstacles: learning to be a lady, gaining the Maxwell's trust (and, eventually, esteem), and facing Satin, the leader of their gang. It feels like a lot of things are happening in the story, but Galen is able to develop each aspect of Marlowe's story very well. I loved the ambiguity of her identity: is she really Elizabeth? Maxwell, his household, (and we readers) only have Brook Derring's word to rely on, and he was absent for the most part of the story. In truth, I was very curious about how the story would have turned out IF she wasn't Elizabeth. Would Maxwell be able to see beyond his own prejudice and love her?
"Liar. You're terrified I'm not really Lady Elizabeth and everyone will know you were dancing with nothing but a thief from Seven Dials."
- loc 2007
Galen's portrayal of Marlowe's life as a thief and the gang she ran with was fascinating, and the stand-out character is Gideon. It's suggested in the novel that Gideon is hiding some aspects of his identity, and I hope this is something that the author develops in the future instalments of this series. (A question for the author: is Gideon the little boy with the ball in Chapter 1?) I did have a problem with all the slang (and could imagine the author's word processor flagging/auto-correcting many of the words in the story ^_^) -- it did slow down my reading of the book in the beginning, but I slowly got the hang of it near the middle.
My other problem was with how hastily two important plot points were resolved in the story: Maxwell's change of heart was quite abrupt and a bit questionable, because it seemed that his acceptance of Marlowe was only based on her physical transformation. (She had only been in his household a few days, so she hadn't really worked out her manners and language yet.) My second problem was how Marlowe's own identity was resolved. The story ends happily, but the question of how Marlowe would fit in society still lingered in my mind. Would she have polished her manners and be embraced by society? Would Maxwell's mother make peace with her? How would they explain the "distant cousin" story to the Duchess of Abingdon?
Story gaps aside, Shana Galen offers wonderful insight into the lives of those who belonged to the Upper Ten Thousand, and the lives of those who don't. There is a really wide gap that needs to be bridged between these two parts of the same world.
"It didn't suit my coloring," she'd said earlier. Marlowe had gaped. Did people actually choose clothing based on color? And they didn't wear clothing simply because the color didn't flatter them? At times she really wanted to knock these swells down for their selfishness.
- loc 1627
* * *
... She remembered watching a time or two as a fancy carriage passed her on the streets. She might catch a glimpse of a lady's face in the window, but usually the curtains were closed, and the occupants were a mystery. They passed a family walking on the street, and Marlowe waved to a little girl looking up at them. The little girl's eyes went wide.
Marlowe almost chuckled. Now the child would have a story to tell.
- loc 1742 to 1750
Earls Just Want to Have Fun is book 1 in Shana Galen's Covent Garden Cubs series and will be released on February 3, 2015. To find out more about Shana Galen and her books, click below:
Disclosure: I received this review copy via Netgalley. Thank you to Shana Galen and Sourcebooks Casablanca for the opportunity. Yes, this is an honest review.