Book Review

Magnate by Joanna Shupe

The first full novel in Shupe’s Knickerbocker series, Magnate is about the Gilded Age in New York, a man who went from Five Points childhood to owning basically half of New York City, and  a woman who wants to start an investment firm. It’s also one of those situations where the hero is a huge asshole, and the heroine only goes about halfway to call him out on it.

Elizabeth Sloan is the only daughter of an Old Money New York family. She knows her brother’s company is in trouble, but he refuses to worry her pretty little head about it. Problem is, her pretty little head is better at numbers and playing the stock market than he is- or anyone else. She wants to start an investment firm, but needs backing. That’s where Emmett Cavanaugh comes in.

Emmett grew up in the slums of Five Points, worked in a factory, acquired a nest egg, and through being smart, being lucky, and being DAMNED determined, hatched a giant steel company. He’s got a stupid amount of money, a brother and a couple of sisters, and “society,” of course, doesn’t like him because New Money and also he’s a little rough around the edges. Elizabeth decides to ask him to back her investment firm because she knows that he and the heroes of the other book in this series meet to plan out business and politics in the city (more on that later), and that no one else would meet with her.

She’s got enough moxie and demonstrates enough business sense that Emmett agrees, mostly to see what would happen, and through a series of events, they end up having to get married, and through another series of events, have a bunch of misunderstandings before they settle into an HEA.

There’s a couple things I really liked. First, Elizabeth and her determination to start an investment firm so she can play the stock market is based on a real thing that happened (Shupe talks about this in an author’s note, THANK YOU) when Cornelius Vanderbilt backed two women, Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee Clafin, which allowed them to open their own firm, which was targeted towards women and helped a lot of women move towards financial independence. Elizabeth even calls this out when she’s standing up against the haters (of course she has haters, omg a woman in BUSINESS heaven forfend): “If any of you want to increase your pin money, call me.”  So that’s awesome. She’s smart and is able to use her connections and access to women’s spaces to make good trading decisions – including some that no one else has ever thought to make.

(I can’t speak on if Shupe gets the stock market right. I don’t really understand how it works, no matter how many times my dad – who knows what he’s talking about! – has tried to explain it. There’s magical money to be made based on rumors and stuff and sometimes the magical money gets magically disappeared and everything is terrible. That’s what I know.)

I also liked how Shupe sets up this world. There’s cabals of men that get together and make backdoor negotiations and plan what stories need to be published in the paper (or shouldn’t be). They horse-trade the politicians who need to approve permits and break strikes and it’s shady as shit, yo. Shady. As. Shit. And yet I found myself going “Well, yes, this is all perfectly normal for these heroes to be doing that,” so props for that. That’s an impressive feat.

The main weakness is Emmett. He’s almost a classical old school alphole: bad childhood, finds intimidating people and beating the shit out of them to be a reasonable conflict resolution method (to the point that his valet get miffed when he gets blood on his waistcoat AGAIN). One of the events that ensues during the story occurs when a former suitor of Elizabeth’s doesn’t really understand that, “No, I don’t want to bang you” means “No, I don’t want to bang you.” Emmett takes this very, very badly, and even when Elizabeth is like, “No, seriously, I’m not running off with this asshole” he gets very possessive. And I can work with that, if there’s a Come To Jesus moment where the hero grows and learns that this is not acceptable behavior. In this case, he apologizes, and she forgives him, but I’m not totally sure that she thought he was a hero behaving badly. TL;DR: NEEDS MORE GROVEL.

There really wasn’t a moment like that, and that was frustrating. That was VERY frustrating. So I have to knock this down to a B. All that said, the story made me care about the kind of people who I detest in real life, and I love the setting very much. The next book is Elizabeth’s brother’s book, and I kind of can’t wait to see what makes him turn into a good person.

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Magnate by Joanna Shupe

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  1. Gigi says:

    I’ve been really looking forward to this one. I can deal with an old skool alpha hole but I demand proper groveling. On the other hand, gilded age NYC….I feel a one click coming on.

  2. LauraL says:

    I thought Tycoon was a good story and I liked the way Joanna Shupe introduced Emmett Cavanaugh and the other members of the Knickbocker Club at the end of the book. I am looking forward to reading this one, alphahole and all. Like Gigi says, gilded age NYC….

  3. ijinx says:

    I want to read this. It’s like McKinney’s Lions & Lace, which I kind of sort of liked, only with a heroine who is less of a doormat.

  4. Mary Star says:

    I am up at 1am because I couldn’t stop reading this book. Really, really good.

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