5*, 100% recommended.
When the days are dull and lifeless and you feel you’re old and tired, then the remedy you need is The Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies. It is a thrilling read, with real heart and intelligence, and an absolute delight.
Which is strange, because it is not dealing in delightful topics. It’s not all ballgowns and swooning. Instead, we have a marvellous ‘older’ (at 42) unmarried woman, bored with society life and champing at the bit to do something more useful than trying to get herself a husband. Intelligent and feisty, Gus finds herself being asked to help women in dire situations. A genuine, fierce feminist rage against a society that condones and allows abuse of women permeates the novel — a rage that is as valid today as in the 18th century.
The Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies is social satire at its best, blending humour, action and great dialogue into a story that rips along. The historical setting is beautifully and convincingly reproduced. The events and behaviours don’t feel anachronistic, despite themes that would never have been addressed (or at least not as directly) in contemporary novels. (To the best of my knowledge: I can’t think of any other novels written during the period ~1790-1830 where the lightness of Regency and the darkness of Gothic overlap in the one book.)
The main characters make a wonderful trio; Gus, her sister Julia – fragile but brave – and Lord Evan, who Gus is convinced was falsely accused of murder. I enjoyed every moment of their adventures and will snap up any sequels. I can’t wait!
Thanks to the author, publisher and Netgalley for the ARC. All my reviews are 100% honest and unbiased, regardless of how I acquire the book.
Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies is available from all major booksellers. Pub Date: 30 May 2023
You might also like: The Darlings of the Asylum | Noel O’Reilly