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The Luxe Series: 19th Century Gossip Girl

July 6, 2012

The Luxe, by Anna Godbersen. Harper Collins 2007 447 pages.

Rumors, by Anna Godbersen. Harper Collins 2008, 423 pages.

Envy, by Anna Godbersen. Harper Collins 2009, 416 pages.

Splendor, by Anna Godberson. Harper Collins 2009, 400 pages.

I started reading Luxe, by Anna Godbersen, because it’s YA historical fiction set in 19th century New York. Jennifer had mentioned it in class, describing the series as “19th century Gossip Girl,” and potentially a way for fans of the modern series to get into historical fiction.

It was an accurate description. Reading the series, with its intertwined plots, opulent descriptions, and an ensemble cast of scheming characters all engaged in social posturing, felt like watching a soap opera. The first book begins with the main character’s funeral. And then works backwards to explain how the social constraints she faced, her family’s precarious fortunes, society gossip and forbidden love, pushed her to the point where she thought her funeral was the only way out.

I am choosing my words carefully. “Funeral.” As opposed to “death.”

Did I mention the many similarities to a soap opera?

There: that wasn’t so much of a spoiler as it was a convention of the genre.

The characters were interesting– at times, many of the viewpoint characters acted like types: Prim and dutiful Elizabeth, rebelling and harboring a secret. Scheming, nasty Penelope was fun to hate. The outspoken Daphne, pushing the boundaries of what it meant to be young in the 19th century, with more exuberance and daring than society could contain. Lina, transforming herself. Henry, torn between love and duty and kind of a jackass playboy about it all.

But– as much as I can sum up the thrust of these characters in a sentence, each one held a few surprises, once I was reading inside their heads. Or, acted out of character in a way that worked, a way that inspired sympathy.

Peripheral characters, like the gossip journalist, and Buck the party planner (19th century answer to Sassy Gay Friend, though that was never stated outright) were also fun.

At times almost Dickensian in the reversals of fortunes for variously mean and petty characters, these books were definitely a guilty pleasure. That’s a lot of social scheming to read in rapid succession. I’m not usually a soap opera fan. And the various ways the characters were petty and scheming… that was a lot to take in one sitting. The historical setting sold it for me, descriptions of dresses, late night parties, social rituals. So I could get my petty machinations tempered with a good browse of the scenery and feel a little less overwhelmed by melodrama.

I’m off to go read some nonfiction or something else equally nutritious.

Want more historical fiction? Check out my other blog, Books Back in Time. Here’s my page on historical romance (and ballgowns.)

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