Review: The Hellion’s Waltz by Olivia Waite (2021)

Feminine Pursuits, Book #3

Reviews of Feminine Pursuits, Book #1 and Book #2

Heat Factor: There’s some passion

Character Chemistry: It’s obvious that they like each other

Plot: This swindle keeps getting more and more out of control

Overall: It was kinda busy

Sophie’s family has recently moved to the smaller town of Carrisford, after losing everything to a con artist. So when she witnesses the opening gambit of what is clearly a swindle while shopping for a new ribbon, she can’t help but intervene. She accosts Maddie to warn her off—if someone is swindling the draper, that means that her new home isn’t safe for her family as they slowly build a second-hand musical instrument business. 

Too bad Sophie is also intensely and immediately attracted to Maddie. 

Of course, it turns out that Maddie is a righteous, Robin Hood type swindler, who is targeting that specific draper because he’s spent years cheating the weavers who supply his shop with silk and ribbons. 

The details of Maddie’s and Sophie’s work were fascinating to read about. Sophie works as a piano tuner and teacher, so there are lots of details about early 19th-century music. Maddie is a silk weaver at a moment in time when the British weaving industry was in flux, as skilled handloom weavers were rapidly being replaced by machines in factories. All of the information about their labor, and its intersection with changes in technology and the market create a really rich backdrop against which the rest of the story is set. 

Unfortunately, the rest of the story didn’t quite work for me. The scam Maddie is running is extremely complicated and involves a dozen different people, all of whom are named characters and several of whom Sophie meets by herself, leading to the impression that the whole damn town knows that the weavers’ collective is out to get the draper. Like, the random young female clockmaker that Sophie meets while visiting an elderly musician just *happens* to also be helping Maddie make some fancy-looking scam loom. Also, pretty much every secondary character is tidily partnered off through the course of the book with an appropriate helpmeet. It was a lot, and I frankly couldn’t find myself caring about any of the secondary characters, with the possible exception of Sophie’s parents. There were just so many of them, and none of them felt well-developed. 

Furthermore, Mr. Giles, Evil Draper, wasn’t a very ominous villain. Literally every single person the reader meets hates him, so the claims that he has all this power through bribery might be true—but it feels hollow because we never see it. 

The romance also fell a bit flat for me. There’s so much focus on the criminal plan that there’s not a ton of space for character development. Sophie and Maddie have an instant connection, despite having different points of view about thievery. I can buy instalove, but I can’t buy Sophie’s complete about-face about the swindle. She discovers that Mr. Giles lied to her while making a sale (not about anything important, just telling an emotional story about a ribbon he’s trying to sell) and then is 100% behind Maddie’s criminal endeavor. I frankly needed more space for her to start seeing the world in grey. Or, speaking about the relationship between Sophie and Maddie, more interactions between the two of them as they go from 0 to 60. 

I will say that Sophie’s character development as she reembraces music in her life is really beautiful. And Waite really nails that moment when a character shows her love by making that perfect romantic gesture (Maddie telling Sophie she’s a nightingale; Sophie writing a waltz based on her relationship with Maddie). Neither moment wrung a tear from my eye, but they were still lovely. 

I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.

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