Doubleday £12.99

Mistress of My Fate, By Hallie Rubenhold

Step away from the bodice

Mistress of my Fate is a full-blooded historical romp that is eager to please.

The debut novel by the historian Hallie Rubenhold is set in England at the start of the French Revolution, and it leaves no late 18th-century narrative convention untried. Spirited heroine caught between self-determination and social restriction? Check. Family saga with more scandals than the News of the World newsroom? Check. Handsome hero with statuesque build and bulging trouser? Check. Dandies, letters gone astray, and well-meaning prostitutes? Great Big Check.

Henrietta Lightfoot is the ugly duckling of her wealthy family, playing second fiddle to her accomplished cousin, Catherine. When the handsome Lord Allenham hoves into view everyone expects Catherine to capture his heart. So Hetty is not a little shocked when Allenham woos her – with Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther, the literate devil. Catherine responds by kicking the manure out of Henrietta, then kicking the bucket. The 18th century, eh?

Henrietta's guardian then insists that she must marry a wilted piece of celery called the Reverend John Pease. Hetty does a runner, landing first at Allenham's estate in East Anglia. After some blissful coupling, Allenham mysteriously disappears. Just what is up with those secret political meetings about French Revolutions? Hetty follows him to London, where she learns that her mother was a heroine of the demi-monde, earning the patronage of rich men through sex. Henrietta enters the family business, in the hope of tracing her beau, now en Paris.

The title, which alludes to Shakespeare's Rape of Lucrece, suggests Rubenhold's more high-minded intentions: to narrate women's lives candidly in their joys and sorrows. Henrietta tells her story to exert the sort of control over her life that life itself denied: "You may think me a radical, but I have always been of the mind that womankind is rendered helpless by her dependency upon men."

Occasionally, the enterprise comes perilously close to pastiche: "Soon his hands were upon my hair, my waist and running at the edge of my bodice." Blimey! What saves the day is Rubenhold's research, her vivid period details and exuberant narrative. Henrietta is especially pleasing: two parts Lizzie Bennett and Tom Jones's Sophia Western to one part Moll Flanders – with a splash of Fanny Hill.

Episode one of a trilogy, Mistress of my Fate is superior commercial fiction. Most importantly, it is great fun.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

    Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

    In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
    Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

    How has your club fared in summer sales?

    Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
    Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

    'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

    Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
    The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

    The best swim shorts for men

    Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup