Eves, Rosalyn. An Improbable Season. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2023. 352 pp. ISBN 978-0374390181. $19.99
Marketed as a Bridgerton read-alike because it’s set in the Regency era, An Improbable Season focuses on the London debut of two sisters and their cousin, only one of whom actually seems interested in settling down and marrying. Admirably, one is looking for the intellectual heart of the city, and I had trouble from the beginning keeping the characters–defined as the scientist, the poet and the one who wants a family–or their beaus–straight and had to keep flipping back (even though details were conveyed through diary entries, field notes, and actions) to remind myself who was who. While chapters alternate in focus, the narrative voice and point of view is the same throughout. I would have much rather read a stand-alone novel about the romances of each protagonist in a three-part series, which would have left more time and space for nuanced character development, and more complete world-building.
For the record, Thalia Aubrey is an aspiring poet and has ignored the affections of family friend Mr. Hetherbridge for years, falling for the rakiest rake, Mr. Darby; Kalliope, the sweet one who loves parties second only to family is accidentally caught with Hetherbridge in the gardens with a ripped dress and the two are forced into a betrothal as Kalli navigates and attraction to and attention from a Mr. Salisbury, who seems to love her awkwardness; cousin Charist Elphinstone, a scientist and naturalist who has a fondness for insects and feminism, plans only to observe the Season and then engages in a battle of wits and wills with the Indian-born style maker Mr. Leveson, who becomes her love interest.
As the three young ladies arrive in London, details of the journey or preparations for the Season are omitted, launching right into visiting other women and girls, with nary an eligible bachelor in sight, quickly remedied once the parade of calling cards begins. There is drama, and gossip, etiquette to be learned, and dancing late into the night, but also hurt feelings, soul searching, sneaking around, and finally, solidarity.
Much knowledge is simply assumed, with period details, London locations, and terms are mostly undefined (bluestocking, Gretna Green, Almacks, modiste, nabobs, milliner); careful readers will be able to figure out some references with context, and while I had fun looking up the various punches served, a few more sensory details would have been gracious. The excellent author’s note at the end fills in some of the blanks and addresses British colonization and women of science of the time period. The inclusion of a person of colonized India ancestry educated in Britain and struggling to find his place in the world was a welcome addition.
I will say the courtship scenes are tame but full of sensual details, and the endings/beau that each young lady ended up with was … well, improbable. Which makes me think either I really didn’t read carefully, that some details were just red herrings, or there was a goal by the author, a long time reader of Regency romances, to meet the expectation set by the title.
I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #TheImprobableSeason from #NetGalley.