Lavinia Spencer, bookkeeper to her family’s lending library, does everything for everyone, is taken for granted, but at heart is warm and loved. William White does everything for a brutal boss, survives on a pittance, is taken for granted after being cheated out of his promised inheritance, and is cold and lonely. Except for how he feels about Lavinia.
He adores her. He’s admired her for over a year, and saved for months to afford the subscription fee to the lending library she runs, just for the chance to see her. When Lavinia’s brother is swindled by people who do nefarious swindly-type things, Lavinia must figure out a way to save him – until William White steps in and makes an outrageous, tempting, and dangerous offer.
What I love about the novella is the intricate parallels and mirrors within the plot. She teaches him about value of honor, and he teaches her the value of independence instead of dependence. But the way those themes of honor, worth, independence, and value are folded back onto one another, reappearing and connecting to each other in intricate moments is simply amazing. The book is like a sword that’s a thousand years old but shines like it was made yesterday, constructed of the thinnest sheets of metal folded back and forth onto itself a million times. It’s shiny and solid and powerful, but there’s even more to appreciate when you examine the intricacy of its construction.
This is a novella that grows in quality the more you ponder it, and in the time since I’ve finished it, I’ve grown to appreciate its demonstrated skill and intelligence. I wish there weren’t large jumps in time, and some of the explanations and inter monologues were roundabouts I had to re-read at times before I caught the full meaning, but I made myself do it despite a habit of scanning once my attention is lost, because I knew there was more to appreciate. Sometimes the dialogue or explanations were so complex as to be intimidating, but I was so invested in the characters and their happy endings, I backed up and read again.
It is a break from the nobility-filled historical as it is a romance between two working-class individuals. But it is as much about honor and the nobility of individuals as the best of the duke-ridden romances on the shelves now – more so because it reveals those themes in a little-seen setting. It is about where selflessness and selfishness end, and they can slide into one another. How much selflessness is really a selfish desire to be needed? How much can selfishness be alleviated by someone’s caring?
If this is what Milan can do in a short novella, I can’t wait to see what happens in a novel length work.