Etta

Book Review: The Worst Woman in London (ARC)

Expected publication: February 2nd 2023

Author: Julia Bennet

A defiant Victorian wife fights to escape a bad marriage but her love for a forbidden man jeopardizes her chance at freedom.

James Standish knows how to play society’s game. He’ll follow the rules, marry a virginal debutante, and inherit a massive fortune. At least, that’s the plan until he meets Francesca Thorne. She’s not the sort of woman a respectable gentleman like James could ever marry—not least because, strictly speaking, she’s married already.

Francesca is determined to flout convention and divorce her philandering husband. When James sweet talks his way into her life tasked with convincing her to abandon her dream of freedom, she’s unprepared for the passion that flares between them.

Torn apart by conflicting desires, James and Francesca must choose whether to keep chasing the lives they’ve always wanted or take a chance on a new and forbidden love.

The Worst Woman in London immediately appealed to me due to the enticing cover, title, and interesting premise. I love historical romances, so I was excited to see what this story holds. The story opens with Edward Thorne and his friend James Standish. Edward proposes to Francesca, and she accepts, although James does not believe the two are suited for each other. Fast forward ten years later and Francesca and Edward are still married in name, but not in spirit. Francesca is petitioning for a divorce, but Edward is hesitant because he is worried about his image in society. He enlists the help of James to help convince Francesca to stay married for the sake of society, but the situation becomes even more tangled when James and Francesca have a spark.

There are a lot of themes explored with this set of characters, such as social class, women’s rights, public image, and the patriarchy. Edward and Francesca married and then began living separate lives. While Edward can freely have affairs, Francesca is expected to remain faithful and not seek her own happiness. James is the heir to his wealthy aunt’s estate, which means following her wishes to remain in her favor. While I was expecting to follow along with Francesca and James, I was surprised at the amount of time spent on Edward. The author not only illustrated James and Francesca developing a romance but attempted to tell Edward’s side of things. While I did not mind the attempt to redeem Edward, I found myself uninterested as it took page time away from the main couple. For me, I feel that Edward needed his own story where flashbacks from moments in this novel could have been used, so readers could connect better to him as a character and focus more on Francesca and James in this one.

With the detailed exploration of divorce and marriage, this aspect of the novel was well-done. It does drag a little as it tended to stay more accurate where separation is not a fast process. Francesca and Edward were clearly not suited together and instead she was a better fit with James, but I wish that the reader got more time to attach to the chemistry that James and Francesca shared. Their connection was apparent, and I liked how their relationship developed. I think the premise of this story was great and the outline was nice, but I think it needed a little more balance as it feels slightly incomplete. Other readers may feel differently, but I still believe how Edward and his storyline fit in needed some changes; however, this was still a nice story and a great introduction to the author. Based on the ease of reading, though, I greatly look forward to reading more from the author!  

**I give a special thank you to Netgalley and the author for the opportunity to read this novel. The opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.**

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