Jean, 39, lover of sci-fi, horror and fantasy, reader of comic books, conqueror of genre fiction.
There's a discussion going on right now, a progression on how female characters are viewed, and that's writing an interesting female versus writing a "strong" female. Much to my delight, this book goes with the former, eschewing the cliches and tropes generally inherent in the genre. Amy and Aurelia are identical twins--or, they were, before an accident that left Aurelia scarred and physically disadvantaged. This is another piece of storytelling I feel sets this novel apart from its genre, in the sensitive and realistic dealing with a disability; Aurelia is naturally reserved in the way only someone with a close, vivacious sibling can be, and she's withdrawn, because of the way she feels about herself, as well as how society of that day viewed such things; but I never felt or read of the pity that usually accompanies these things, and overwhelms them until the work itself buys into the idea that being disadvantaged is truly life-ruining. This book is life-affirming, as Aurelia decides, after the titular waltz, to learn how turn it to her favor. She comes back from rehabilitation a stronger, more confident person, and the change wasn't at all jarring, but certainly refreshing!
And Amy and Aurelia are best friends; we see the closeness between them, the love, and while also adding to and serving to explain quite a bit of the plot, I feel this is also the beautiful heart of the book, and a bit revolutionary in the way it quietly challenges accepted views on women, especially in period pieces, in the way they relate to one another (see also: my review of Imogen Robertson's Westerman/Crowther mysteries and my disappointments with this "trope.")
As a matter of fact, the novel really caught my attention--and my heart--when the girls get away to Cornwall, to Amy's fiance's (James, the male lead of the novel) estate (newly bequeathed to him, through a series of events that inform the book's mystery subplot, a nice piece of writing/plotting by Sherwood, as well!) and the differences between the young women come to the forefront, as well as the strength of their relationship.
And the romance is, of course, beautiful. Very subtly done, and something you don't see a lot in a genre of raging passions, and fiery flings: two rather introverted, sensitive people falling in love. James also comes into his own on the trip to Cornwall (a favorite location of mine, by the by, and used to great effect here!) The secondary romance was wonderfully done, too, and left me with a huge grin. The plot does work out nicely, but in a way that felt neat but not forced. I do love a happy ending! Two of them are even nicer!