This book was reviewed from an Advanced Reading Copy that I received. This review will have spoilers.
Carriger returns with another one of her romantic short stories, taking readers familiar with and new to her world on a side path and finding a happy ending along the way.
Romancing the Inventor is set later in the Parasol Protectorate series and brings a love story for the complicated Madame Lefoux, the French inventor. Though not the first lesbian romance to which Carriger has introduced, this is the first time it has been the focus of the story.
The tale is from the perspective of Imogene, a country maid who takes a job at the hive both for much needed wages as well as a goal of perhaps finding others who like herself share a same sex interest. Carriger does carefully frames the challenges a village woman with little power in the Victorian era might have had in finding a lover of her own preference.
Once at the hive, Imogene comes across Genevieve Lefoux and over a number of months their flirtations grow to something far deeper. Class differences are noted by Imogene, who feels overwhelmed at how far apart they are socially and there is a nod to the above/below stairs divide that may appeal to fans of Downton Abbey.
Several aspects worked quite well in this book. Despite the brevity of the story, time passed. This was not a three week romance one often finds in shorter stories, nor was there an unreasonable number of years going by. Instead a few weeks passed here and there, long enough for the heroines to actually get to know each other–not just fall madly into bed.
Imogene was an active heroine. There were aspects that were out of her control and the resplendent Lady Maccon charges in to save the day at one particularly frightening moment but overall, Imogene does her best to hold her own and act on her interests. At the beginning she displayed a combination of heroine worship and puppy love that could have made her unbearably sweet but Carriger develops the character to be more active and complex and therefore more suitable counterpart to Lefoux.
While I’m not much of one for reading sex scenes, the ones in this story were much better than what was in the last story. It was sweeter and consensual desire and affection was apparent. While Genevieve was resisting, it was out of emotional self-protection.
There were a few minor quibbles. Imogene’s family is mentioned several times at the beginning but then dropped rather cavalierly about 60% of the way through the book. Considering she is a primary source of income for them and a potential driving force for her work, this was a loose end flapping.
I also found it a litle odd that in a family with many children and a large amount of poverty, Imogene was only just going to work at age 28? Alexia was odd at 26 being a dedicated spinster in Soulless, it seemed almost impossible that a country girl would be unemployed, unmarried, not in the church, etc by two years older. Sexual violence is present in the book–though more as threat than activity, and I didn’t care for Imogene later seeming to partially excuse it.
A final delightful aspect was seeing Major Channing a somewhat warmer light. One has the suspicion that Carriger has a romance planned for him and perhaps the relevation of a lost love as well. He was kind to Imogene and their interactions were heartfelt and comfortable.
Carriger is more confident in this second romance offering and returns with ease to Alexia’s world, which will bring longtime readers along easily. Newer readers will notice the allusions to other characters and stories but these do not distract overall.
Overall, this is a charming addition to the canon.