Rating: 2.75 stars
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Length: Novel


Ruth lost her mother not too long ago, and now her father is gone as well. Orphaned, with a pile of bills and debt and only a theater and small acting troupe, Ruth has no choice but to heed the Bard. The show, after all, must go on. But with audiences no longer interested in the stale collection of plays she has to offer, Ruth can only hope for a miracle.

Artemis Goode is a well known playwright who, before she found her fame and fortune in London, knew Ruth’s father, acted in his theater, and used what she learned from him to hone her craft. She’s retired now, after her partner, Kit, took a new woman to be his lover. All she wants is to sit in her quiet home, in her own thoughts, with only herself for company. At least, that was the plan before Ruth came begging for help.

Now, Artemis has a play to write. The only problem is … she has no idea what to write. Her muses are gone and all she has left is banal, mediocre offerings for Ruth and her troupe. Perhaps Artemis needs a romance to be her inspiration?

For all that Shakespeare is mentioned over and over, this story takes place in Regency England in a modest town outside of London. Here, women aren’t unknown on the stage, and while it may be unusual to have Ruth own, run, and manage her own theater, it’s not going to raise any eyebrows. Nor does Ruth’s preference for women over men, or Artemis’ bisexuality, cause anyone to think less of them. Even Artemis is known as a famous female playwright with no need of a male partner to take credit for her work.

Ruth was an unwanted child. Neither of her parents planned to marry, let alone have a child, but when her mother became pregnant, her parents settled down to be a family. Ruth’s father let his daughter know that she wasn’t entirely wanted, and that both he and her mother had other plans for their lives, but he didn’t hold it against her. Much. However, he instilled in Ruth a deep insecurity about being good enough, strong enough, and capable enough. He encouraged her to play maids and comedic sidekicks, never leading roles. Is it any wonder she’s a ball of insecurity?

Artemis has writer’s block. She was good — very good — at what she did. She was known in London and even beyond for her skill, but when Kit moved on, she lost whatever part of her it was that made her words inspire. When Ruth begs her to come write a play for her, Artemis does, only to write the most tired and hackneyed story. Even she is wondering why her characters are so stupid and rolling her eyes at the overused tropes … and then she offers that up to Ruth and company, knowing it’s crap. If it weren’t for other people pushing her, prodding her, and judging her, Artemis might have considered that job done and wandered home. But her pride was hit, and so — feeling sorry for herself — she tries harder. This time with help.

In the middle of this, there’s the romance. Ruth has a case of hero worship for Artemis, who — seemingly lonely and flattered — takes Ruth up on what might have been an offer (or might just have been friendship) and sleeps with her, only to be horribly sad about it and walk away when it’s done. This leads to Ruth wondering what she did wrong. Fortunately, they make up and fall in love.

I didn’t buy into the romance. At first, I thought this might be a slightly more interesting take with Ruth having to decide if Artemis deserved to be held up to such high standards; Ruth seeing the person behind the persona; or Artemis realizing that using someone, like Kit used her, was wrong and that if she wanted to be better than him, she’d have to be a better person herself. Instead, it’s instant love and sparkles and realizing that they were strong enough the whole time — Artemis to write again and Ruth to act in a leading role. There’s a comfortable reliability with the plot, which led to me focus on other aspects, such as the writing.

A comment on the writing itself is a personal nitpick. There are a lot of italics. A lot. Sometimes half a page, broken up with normal text, and it’s a formatting issue that made it awkward to read. Both characters are often in their thoughts, indicated with italics, which points out a weakness in this book, which is that both characters sound exactly the same. Other than names and the fact that one is agonizing about being used and the other agonizing about using … I struggled to tell them apart. Because so many thoughts overlap, so many manners of speaking and acting are almost identical, it made both characters feel like copies of one another. Personally, I think this book would have read better as a single character POV.

Ruth is the stronger of the two. Her story has more weight and she is slightly more developed. The broken sentences, the emotional inconsistencies, the readiness to believe everything and anything without taking the time to think about them first all feel very in line with a young woman who has just lost her father and is unprepared for the burdens on her shoulders. The pace is a little slow, and the conflict of Kit coming back into the book felt rather tepid, with no weight or resonance. The third act breakup felt heavily contrived and with no buildup as to why Artemis would make such a choice.

I’m sorry, but this is a solid pass for me. The historical aspect felt like set dressing, the characters flat, and the story didn’t hold my interest.