About the Book:
Author: Alison Goodman
Page Length: 464
Publication Date: May 30, 2023
Publisher: Berkley Books
Synopsis: Lady Augusta Colebrook, “Gus,” is determinedly unmarried, bored by society life, and tired of being dismissed at the age of forty-two. She and her twin sister, Julia, who is grieving her dead betrothed, need a distraction. One soon presents itself: to rescue their friend’s goddaughter, Caroline, from her violent husband.
The sisters set out to Caroline’s country estate with a plan, but their carriage is accosted by a highwayman. In the scuffle, Gus accidentally shoots and injures the ruffian, only to discover he is Lord Evan Belford, an acquaintance from their past who was charged with murder and exiled to Australia twenty years ago. What follows is a high adventure full of danger, clever improvisation, heart-racing near misses, and a little help from a revived and rather charming Lord Evan.
Back in London, Gus can’t stop thinking about her unlikely (not to mention handsome) comrade-in-arms. She is convinced Lord Evan was falsely accused of murder, and she is going to prove it. She persuades Julia to join her in a quest to help Lord Evan, and others in need–society be damned! And so begins the beguiling secret life and adventures of the Colebrook twins.
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When I first saw the cover of The Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies, I was instantly interested. It is so pretty, and the story and characters sounded compelling, so I was excited when asked to be part of the blog tour for it. And it didn’t disappoint! It’s an immersive and intriguing mystery, and I adored the sisters, the adventures, and the love story.
The two main characters, Augusta “Gus,” and Julia are single sisters in their 40s, and they are firmly on the shelf of spinsterhood. Treated as an afterthought and a bit of a burden by their brother, the twins live together and have created a fulfilling, if a little mundane, life for themselves. Gus and Julia use much of their free time to help women and children in precarious, and sometimes dangerous, situations.
Augusta and Julia are fantastic characters, and they complement each other well. Augusta (Gus) is the more adventurous and daring sister, and Julia is the more reserved peacemaker of the two. They have such a great relationship, and I enjoyed the little ways their deep connection was shown. It’s almost as if they can read each other’s thoughts, and I always love a little twin magic.
The book follows the sisters through three different cases they work on, all involving women and children in trouble. Each investigation leads the sisters into the dark and dangerous corners of London, and they do everything in their power to right the wrongs of the women and children affected. Gus and Julia are so brave, and they face some despicable and ruthless villains. But their investigations don’t always go as planned, and sometimes they need a little help from their friends.
Lord Evan Belford is one such friend, though initially he appears to be a dishonorable man. I loved his character. He’s super swoon-worthy, and he often puts himself at risk to help Gus and others. I can’t wait to learn more about his past, what really happened that led to his imprisonment and punishment, and how he will prove his innocence. Though the romance isn’t at the forefront of the story, it is a lovely addition to the plot, and he and Gus have great chemistry. I can’t wait to see how this slow-burning love story progresses as the series continues.
I think I hate Gus and Julia’s brother as much as I love Evan. He is so sexist and selfish, and he thinks he is better than his sisters. The way he constantly insults her and women is deeply condescending, yet his views make him a paragon of the patriarchy. I wish he saw his sisters as the fierce and intellectual champions they are and stopped pushing and pressuring them to conform for the sake of his own reputation. I found it interesting that the man who is accepted into society is a sexist snob, and the man who is vilified by society is a good and honorable man.
I thought this was a great read. It was smart and exciting, and Gus and Julia are wonderful. I love that the story highlights so many of the issues women faced, and though many of the issues presented were dark, they are balanced nicely with a slow-building love story, themes of sisterhood, and great banter. I would definitely suggest checking out the content warnings, though. There are situations that include abuse, cancer, child trafficking, maltreatment in institutions, and other darker topics.
Thanks so much to Berkley Books for providing me with a copy of the book and for having me on the tour. All thoughts are my own.
“We should have worn half boots,” I said. “I can feel every pebble through my slippers.”
“One cannot wear half boots with full dress,” Julia said firmly. “Even in circumstances of duress.”
I stifled a smile. My sister’s sense of style and occasion was always impeccable, and rather too easy to poke.
Julia glanced sideways at me. “Oh, very funny. Next you’ll be suggesting we wear unmentionables.”
“If only we could,” I said. “Breeches would be far more convenient than silk gowns.”
“How would you know?” Julia demanded. “Heavens, Gus, you haven’t actually donned Father’s clothing, have you?”
She knew I had kept some of our father’s clothes after his death; he and I had been much the same height and wiry build. By all rights, the clothes belonged to our brother on his succession to the title-as all our father’s property did-but I had taken them, anyway. A connection to him and a memento mori of sorts.
“Of course not. I am only surmising.”
Julia settled back against my arm. “To even try them would be ghoulish.” She nudged me gently and angled her sweet smile up at me. “Even so, you would look rather dashing in, say, a hussars uniform. You have the commanding height for it, and the gold trim would match your hair.”
I snorted. Julia was, as ever, being too loyal. My brown hair did not even approach gold-in fact, it now had streaks of silver-and my five foot nine inches had so far in my life proved to be more awkward than commanding. She, on the other hand, had been blessed with the Colebrook chestnut hair, as yet untouched by age, and stood at a more dainty five foot two inches.
When we were children I had once cried because we were not identical. Our father had taken me aside and told me that he found such duplications unsettling and he was well satisfied with his two mismatched girls. He had been a good father and a better man. Yet in the eyes of society, his sordid death atop a rookery whore five years ago had become the sum of him.
It had nearly tainted my sister and me, too, for I had recklessly gone to the hovel to retrieve my father-I could not bear to think of his body gawped at by the masses, or as a source of their sport. As fate would have it, I was seen at the brothel. An unmarried woman of breeding should not even know about such places, let alone debase herself by entering one and speaking to the inhabitants. I became the latest on-dit and it was only the staunch support of our most influential friends that silenced the scandalmongers and returned us to the invitation lists.
A small group of middlings-the women with shawls clasped over dimity gowns and the men in belcher neckerchiefs and sober wools-clustered around a singer at the side of the path. The woman’s plaintive ballad turned Julia’s head as we passed.
“‘The Fairy Song,'” she said. “One of Robert’s favorites.”
I quickened our pace past the memory; fate seemed to be conspiring against me.
We attracted a few glances as we walked toward the gloomy entrance to the Dark Walk, mainly from women on the arms of their spouses, their thoughts in the tight pinch of their mouths.
“Maybe we should have brought Samuel and Albert,” Julia whispered. She had seen the matronly judgment too.
“Charlotte does not want our footmen knowing her business,” I said. “Besides, we are not quivering girls in our first season. We do not need to be chaperoned all the time.”
“Do you remember the code we girls made up to warn each other about the men in our circle?” Julia asked. “The code based on these gardens.”
“Vaguely.” I searched my memory. “Let me see: a Grand Walk was a pompous bore, a Supper Box was a fortune hunter . . .”
“And a Dark Walk was the reddest of red flags,” Julia said. “Totally untrustworthy, never be alone with him. It was based on all those awful attacks that happened in the Dark Walk at the time. Do you recall?”
I did-respectable young girls pulled off the path and assaulted in the worst way.
“That was more than twenty years ago, my dear. We are women of forty-two now, well able to look after ourselves.”
“That is not what Duffy would say.”
Indeed, our brother, the Earl of Duffield, would be horrified to know we had gone to Vauxhall Gardens on our own, let alone braved the lewd reputation of the Dark Walk.
“Duffy would have us forever hunched over embroidery or taking tea with every mama who saw her daughter as the new Lady Duffield.”
“True,” Julia said, “but you are so vehement only because you know this is beyond the pale. Not to mention dangerous.”
I did not meet her eye. My sister knew me too well.
“Well, we are here, anyway,” I said, indicating the Dark Walk to our right.
Huge gnarly oaks lined either side of the path, their overhanging branches almost meeting in the middle to make a shadowy tunnel of foliage. One lamp lit the entrance but I could see no other light farther along the path. Nor any other person.
“It lives up to its name,” Julia said.
We both considered its impenetrable depths.
“Should we do as Duffy would want and turn back?” I asked.
“I’d rather wear dimity to the opera,” Julia said and pulled me onward.
I knew my sister just as well as she knew me.
Excerpted from The Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies by Alison Goodman Copyright © 2023 by Alison Goodman. Excerpted by permission of Berkley. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Alison Goodman is the New York Times bestselling author of Eon and Eona and The Dark Days Club series. Learn more online at www.alisongoodman.com.au/