I am a gushy fangirl!
Part of the reason I make an idiot of myself fan-girling over Elizabeth Camden is that she validates everything I love about fiction. In her heroines, I see proud and strong women who are very professionally-driven. Her romances always unfurl with the heroes falling for the heroines because of their confidence and strength. In short, she uses fascinating historical detail to champion women in the working world. She makes me feel better about myself: my career, my choices, my strong nature and will.
While her heroines are never shrinking violets, so they still range from the optimistic to the steel-spined to the romantic to the troubled to the vulnerable--- often all at once.
Camden is especially brave in the way that she handles relationships that are not a traditional happy ever after. Braver still in how her characters express their limitations. They may fall into each other's arms on a beautiful beach scene ( thanks, Romulus and Stella), but they also are honest enough to admit that they may fail even as they brush the possibility of a life together.
Indeed, this is one of the points I want to make about the power of From This Moment. The prequel novella Summer of Dreams is a resplendent companion piece featuring two supporting characters in Clyde and Evelyn. Clyde and Evelyn's story ends happily in the novella only to find them separated and working through layers of confusion and miscommunication in this full-length book. While most romance authors enjoy tying up the neat bow of the happily ever after ending, Camden explores the after: two people who through time and circumstance have grown apart and who tragedy has given a new opportunity. Will they sever forever or find a strength that will bind them more closely than they imagined?
For readers of Camden's canon, they know that the troubles plaguing characters with histories of regret and guilt are part of what makes the flawed personages stand out so well on page. No one in a Camden novel will ever grace its pages without the weight of the past. Think of Lydia in Against the Tide, think of the abuse that Anna and Luke have both endured in Beyond All Dreams, think of Trevor's passion for medical study in With Every Breath. In From This Moment, Romulus and Stella are both results of the past, as are Clyde and Evelyn.
I start, here, with the former: Clyde and Evelyn married young and recklessly in a whirlwind of excitement. But Evelyn suffered the tragedy of the death of a child while Clyde was focused on supporting her with a remote job. Both independent workaholics, the events of From this Moment recall all that has ripped them apart at the seams over a decade.
Their close association with Romulus has resulted in his taking two steps back from any relationship first, because his heart was broken and second because he has seen what can happen when you love. Clyde and Evelyn loved deeply and it forged a tremulous gash in their makeup.
Broken relationships, fallacies, limitations and pride: these are bold things to explore in Historical Romance but Camden, with a swift brush and a ponderously gorgeous grasp of prose ( not to mention a perfect realization of late 19th Century Boston), does so, consistently, with aplomb.
Perambulatory musings aside, let's get to the heart of this rather shakingly good book.
Stella is a talented artist who has long enjoyed correspondence with Romulus, editor and part owner of Scientific World. Romulus has long pursued her to work for him and the hints of an epistolary banter is magnified when the sparks fly on their first meeting. As much as Stella wants to use her artistic talent, so she is afraid of being side tracked from her true purpose in Boston: to uncover those responsible for the death of her sister. Said to be a drowning, Stella suspects that Gwendolyn's proximity to corruption at the heart of the city's political core may have led to her murder.
Romulus, fascinated by Stella's confidence and pride ( they both sport considerable egos, especially when one-upping each other) helps her meander her way around some of Boston's higher echelons. In return, she does some splendid work for him. Together, they find themselves entangled in a maze of deceit and tragedy, childhood mistakes and uncertain futures, all pitted against the fascinating engineering of the Boston subway system.
I must add that alongside the many, many virtues of a Camden book is that her heroines never need to be rescued and often rescue themselves. This is most pronounced at a climactic scene where it would be an easy-set up for Romulus to ride in on a white horse, but he doesn't need to. In turn, there is a sequence where Evelyn rescues Clyde. She plays with gender supposition and undercuts with such a staggering and strong sense of gender equality my fingertips tingle.
There are so many delicious things about this book: one is the slow thaw of two characters who, lets face it, aren't the darlings of the page from the get-go. They are both flawed, proud, conceited and stubborn as all get out. When contrasted with the supporting relationship of Clyde and Evelyn who show pride and limitations in their own way, you wonder if anyone will ever find their happy ever after. But that is the brilliance of Camden. She gives you a little bit of a shaft of light here and there: a night listening to music and stuffing subscription letters into envelopes, the sanctuary of the memory of hummingbirds, a few key insights into a friendship long established while Stella is welcomed into the group.
Like little breadcrumb trails, she flings you pieces of the character's inner-workings and relationships much in the same way she gives you just a fling here and there of the eventual realization of the most intricate mystery. When all is revealed, you will first audibly gasp then secondly laugh at HOW SMART SHE IS for writing this.
Camden's penchant for verisimilitude and her obvious passion for painstaking historical research are well on display here.
When it comes to world-building, few authors have such a keen handle on the female professional experience in the late 19th Century. I am fascinated by her heroine's intelligence, I am hopeful by the hero's acceptance of their confidence, I am glad when a preternatural kinship sometimes riddled with the conflicts of the story are smoothed out and all is well that ends well.
(note: I especially enjoyed the attention paid to fashion in this one: Stella is a very fashionable woman and Camden extrapolates on this well. Romulus also is quite dapper).
"They would either get along smashingly or be tempted to kill each other on sight."
"Beneath his fine black suit, he wore a vest of lavender silk shot with threads of gold. Only a man of immense confidence could wear such a colour and still appear to be the most masculine man in th world."
"It was in ordinary places that the human spirit was unshackled and free to enjoy the gift of life, transcendent in a way that was almost holy" <--yes she does make a quick stop at a pub for cabbage and beef a religious experience
"To date you have displayed the manners of a common wood tick, but I live in hope"
"Excitement illuminated his face as if a live electrical wire had flared to life inside him"
"Ouch," Romulus said, "Two split infinitives in one sentence."
"He even smelled divine, like piney soap and the crisp scent of starched linen."
"The last thing Stella wanted was to join the ranks of pitiful women trailing after Romulus with forlorn hope in their eyes. But she wasn't a pitiful woman. She was a strong one who was willing to fight for what she wanted. And she wanted Romulus White."
"If women don't band together, we'll fall beneath the stampede of men."