When it comes time every year for me to pick my favourite book, I scroll my Goodreads records for books I’ve rated five stars. This year I rated 16 books with five stars: 11 romance novels, three mysteries, one fantasy, and one non-fiction. Of the three mysteries, the first was Laurie R. King’s Island of the Mad and the second was Vivian Shaw’s Dreadful Company. I adored both books, but I picked Vivian Shaw last year (and certain persons who shall remain nameless don’t like it when I do that). Island of the Mad was a strong contender, until I read Sherry Thomas’ The Hollow of Fear in October.
It is an extraordinary book. Despite being set in Victorian England it manages to address modern issues like gender equality in a way appropriate to the setting. Romance is featured but emphatically not the only element that drives the story. And I did not see the ending coming at all. This is an excellent mystery, a heart-tugging romance, but above all a story about the choices that women are forced to make in order to preserve their livelihoods and their sanity. Look, you absolutely must read the first two books (A Study in Scarlet Women and A Conspiracy in Belgravia) to enjoy this one, but I am so jealous because that means you get to read the three in quick succession and I could not think of a better way to read my way through the holidays.