Every now and then I end up with some orphan reviews: things that don’t fit on another site. I’ve been reading a lot of fiction and non-fiction about women’s suffrage. Here’s a review of a fun fiction: City of Lies.
City of Lies is a book with an awful lot going on. On one hand, it’s a historical fiction about American suffragettes in 1917. It’s also an enemies-to-lovers romance, as well as a thriller. I liked this book, but all the different parts worked against each other instead of together.
Our story begins as Elizabeth is participating in a con against rich asshole Oscar Thornton. When Thornton catches on and goes after Elizabeth, Elizabeth runs from him and throws herself into the middle of a group of suffragists who are being arrested. She figures that she is safe from Thornton as long as she stays in jail. She doesn’t count on the fact that she will form close friendships with her fellow suffragists and become enamored of the cause. She also doesn’t count on falling in love with Gideon, the brother of one of her new friends.
This book works best when it focuses on the suffragists. It makes sense that Elizabeth’s past experience and street smarts make her popular in the jail, where most of the women are facing their first arrests. It also makes sense that, once separated from her father and brother, Elizabeth will be drawn to a new pseudo-parent (Gideon’s mother, Mrs. Bates) and new younger sibling to protect (Anna, friend of Mrs. Bates). I enjoy learning about the suffrage movement and as as far as I can tell the sequences in jail are historically accurate. They are certainly well-written and immersive, with bits of humor and a lot of comraderie to relieve the tension of the situation.
Alas, the romance doesn’t work so well. Gideon, a lawyer, lives by what he sees as right and just. He’s a believer in truth and the courts. Elizabeth was raised in a community of con artists and believes in fending for herself and in fleecing the rich for her own benefit. Once out of jail, Elizabeth takes up residence with Anna and betrothes herself with lightning speed to Anna’s brother, David, who is also Gideon’s best friend. I never believed that Gideon would be in love with Elizabeth, nor that they would work as a couple, nor that they had anything in common other than a mutual appreciation of strong-willed women. Frankly, I thought everyone around Elizabeth forgave her awfully damn fast for all the lies she tells and manipulations she conducts during the course of the story.
However, despite her chronic dishonesty, I liked Elizabeth. Her character growth, as she learns to channel her intelligence into a cause larger than scamming people for money, is well done. It’s often entertaining to see her maneuver her way out of impending doom. Also, I very much enjoyed her relationship with Anna, especially when she introduces Anna to some of her more unconventional friends.
This was a story in which the supporting characters were much more interesting than the central characters. Elizabeth is fine, Gideon is a bit of a prat, and Thorton is a one-dimension super evil bad guy. However, The fiery Mrs. Bates is interested, and so is Anna who is underestimated by everyone around her but who demonstrates an iron will. I loved watching Anna come alive after Elizabeth introduces her to some of Elizabeth’s more unconventional friends. These friends allow Anna to consider new relationship models and new ways of living her life. It was a joy to see her development take place.
The other component is the con/thriller/mystery involving Thornton, who just keeps showing up. This element was completely forgettable because Thornton is just an awful bully who is also stupid. His defeat is inevitable and he has no layers whatsoever. He’s just a bad guy and therefore boring and therefore the parts of the story that focus on him are, it pains me to say, also boring.
There were parts of this book that I loved, and some that were just OK. None of it was outright bad, it’s just that the suffragist plotline, which includes the most interesting parts of Anna and Elizabeth’s character development, was the most cohesive and interesting. I suspect that in a month I’ll have forgotten everything about the romance, including the fact that there is one. However, I will remember Elizabeth making Anna laugh in prison, and Mrs. Bates patiently teaching Elizabeth about the suffrage cause. Oh, I’ll remember the clothes too. Once they leave jail, this book is very pretty. It just doesn’t hold together all across the board.