The Ringmaster's Daughter by Grace Elliot
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this historical romance, set in a pleasure garden (an early version of an amusement park) in Georgian England, shortly before the American Revolution (1770s). Henrietta "Hetty" Hart is a lovable heroine, a kind woman who dotes on her ailing father and finds her inner strength when circumstances force her to take over her father's act. In the Georgian era, performing was still considered somewhat scandalous for a "respectable" woman, and Hetty's animal act - innocent as it would seem to us now - is salacious simply because a woman is in the ring. Hetty pushes the boundaries even further when she alters her father's ringmaster costume and performs in male dress as "Henry."
Hetty finds a foil in Tobias Wolfson, the pleasure gardens' new manager after a change of ownership. Mr. Wolfson's vision for the gardens conflict with the way things have been done since Hetty was a child. Only the worthiest acts will make the new cut, and Hetty is unsure if she can continue to support herself and her father. Unsurprisingly, after many clashes, Ms. Hart and Mr. Wolfson find themselves falling in love.
I found myself wholly invested in these characters and wanting a happy ending for them because they were written in such a likable way, two people who are rather proud and stubborn but who, in many ways, complement each other nicely.
Obstacles in their pathway include Mr. Wolfson's past and sense of duty, a famous show horse who may or may not form a bond with his new owner Hetty, and the scheming local lord.
Grace Elliot is not only a romance novelist, but also a veterinarian, and her love of animals shows through her fiction. All of the Harts' performing animals are well cared for and essentially treated like four-legged members of the family.
This novel was a pleasure to read, and the ending was a satisfying one. I'm glad I had the chance to read it.
Disclosure: The author provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest, fair review.
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