In 1920s Europe, a young woman discovers that her supposedly dead father is still alive and living in London with his new socially prominent family, whose happiness she sets out to destroy.
Raised in a poor yet genteel household, Rachel Woodley is working in France as a governess when she receives news that her mother has died. Grief-stricken, she returns to the small town in England where she was raised to clear out the cottage...and finds a cutting from a London society magazine, with a photograph of her supposedly deceased father, dated all of three month before. He's an earl, respected and influential, and he is standing with another daughter - his legitimate daughter. Which makes Rachel...not legitimate. Everything she thought she knew about herself and her past-even her very name-is a lie.
Still reeling from the death of her mother, and furious at this betrayal, Rachel sets herself up in London under a new identity. There she insinuates herself into the party-going crowd of Bright Young Things, with a steely determination to unveil her father's perfidy and bring his-and her half-sister's-charmed world crashing down. Very soon, however, Rachel faces two unexpected snags: she finds she genuinely likes her half-sister, Olivia, whose situation isn't as simple it appears; and she might just be falling for her sister's fiancé...
"No," said Rachel woodenly.
"Lady Olivia Standish is the Earl of Ardmore's daughter."
"His other daughter, then."
Though she has been on my 'To Be Read' radar for some time, this is the first Lauren Willig novel I have had the opportunity to read, and I'm happy to say I found it to be a pleasant experience. Her writing has a nice style and flow that makes it easy to read and the pages quick to turn.
The Roaring 20s is an iconic era and the setting here is well done. Willig effectively captures the spirit of the time and gives us an entertaining glimpse of the Bright Young Things in all their excesses. The main character, Rachel, is likeable, and it is fun to watch her transform in Pygmalion/Cinderella-style into outrageous party girl "Vera" in order to gain access to her father and his second family. However, I have a few qualms with how easily the supposedly naive and upright Rachel takes on this persona.
"What idiots, thought Rachel angrily. What fools, the lot of them. This is the great and the good? It seemed such a waste, those vast edifices, all the wealth and education and culture, all come to this."
"She might not have meant it, but that was what she had become: an expensive freeloader. What had happened to the Rachel who had always prided herself on paying her own way?"
I think this is primarily because readers are excluded from most of this aspect of the story. Rather than witness her struggle to adapt to this different lifestyle, we simply time jump forward a few months to where she is comfortable with the role. A few more scenes illustrating her difficulties portraying Vera and gradually growing into the role would have made the transformation feel much more authentic, in my opinion, with no detriment to the overall narrative. There is a fair amount of repetition of already presented details - Rachel's situation after having lost her father, for example - which could easily have been eliminated or streamlined in order to focus on such scenes, as well as on further character development and plot points.
That being said, the secondary characters are interesting and more complex than they first appear, showing depth and heartache beneath their shiny exteriors. We learn right along with Rachel that all is not always as it seems. Despite my issues with her initial transformation, Rachel's journey is a satisfying one. Through her alter ego she gains confidence, discovers who she truly is and what she wants, and takes control of her life. The plot held my interest and contains some nice twists as Willig brings everything together in the end. There are a few lingering questions and loose threads, and I personally would have appreciated a bit more resolution to Olivia's and Cece's storylines. However, on the whole, this was a quick and entertaining read, and I would not hesitate to pick up another book by this author in the future.
"You're yourself...Isn't that enough?"