Pretty girls in pretty dresses, partying until dawn. Irresistible boys with mischievous smiles and dangerous intentions. White lies, dark secrets, and scandalous hookups. This is Manhattan, 1899.
Beautiful sisters Elizabeth and Diana Holland rule Manhattan’s social scene. Or so it appears. When the girls discover their status among New York City’s elite is far from secure, suddenly everyone–from the backstabbing socialite Penelope Hayes, to the debonair bachelor Henry Schoonmaker, to the spiteful maid Lina Broud–threatens Elizabeth’s and Diana’s golden future. With the fate of the Hollands resting on her shoulders, Elizabeth must choose between family duty and true love. But when her carriage overturns near the East River, the girl whose glittering life lit up the city’s gossip pages is swallowed by the rough current. As all of New York grieves, some begin to wonder whether life at the top proved too much for this ethereal beauty, or if, perhaps, someone wanted to see Manhattan’s most celebrated daughter disappear… In a world of luxury and deception, where appearance matters above everything and breaking the social code means running the risk of being ostracized forever, five teenagers lead dangerously scandalous lives. This thrilling trip to the age of innocence is anything but innocent.
I picked this up looking for something light and fluffy but was very surprised by how good it was and how much I enjoyed reading it. So don’t be fooled by the apparent fluffiness – it’s grounded in historical detail, and has a fast moving plot and vivid characters.
The novel starts at the end, and then goes back in time to allow you to find out what led to the shocking opening scene. Not every novel can pull this off, but The Luxe does it well. It adds intrigue and suspense to the story as you are constantly guessing what led up to the final scene (or initial one). Though I figured the major things out pretty early on, there were minor things that happened that surprised me and it was still cool to see how things played out.
I devoured all the luscious details about dresses and furniture and architecture. I love this era and was able to fully immerse myself in the world of New York 1899. Godbersen is not stingy with descriptions and takes the time to bring each scene to life.
There are four main characters and the novel alternates between their perspectives. There’s Elizabeth who is outwardly an ideal lady, but is really a romantic at heart, her sister Dianna who is feisty and defies societal norms, her friend Penelope who wants Elizabeth’s social status and will do whatever it takes to get there, and her maid Lina who has grand aspirations despite her position. Unlike other multiple POV novels where each character reports on a different set of events, quite often the character’s narratives overlap. It was fascinating to see how each character viewed an event in completely different ways and more importantly how they viewed each other.
There is a lot of awesome character development in the realm of relationships. Relationships between children and parents, between siblings, between friends and, of course, between lovers. Though there is a lot of romance in the novel, it never becomes overly steamy or sexual focuses rather on conveying emotion.
The Luxe comments on the social norms of the day including the line between rich and poor, the way women were treated, arranged marriages, and the stiff manner in which people were expected to behave even when the most perfect lady and gentleman were hiding behind facades. The four characters must navigate this social minefield while working towards their own goals of riches, love and revenge.
I really liked how each chapter began with a quote from newspapers, self-help books, or letters between characters. It was a really nice touch that helped to provide extra information.
I can’t wait to see where the story goes next and am highly anticipating reading book two!