Skip to main content

The Luxe

Review

The Luxe

THE LUXE is set in the glittering and decadent world of turn-of-the-century New York, where romance and intrigue rule the lives of society's elite. Elizabeth and Diana Holland are daughters of one of New York's oldest and most respected families. But when their life of luxury is threatened by the death of their father, Elizabeth must make a marriage of convenience in order to secure her family's financial future.

Her fiance is Henry Schoonmaker, a notorious rake, who is also the scion of a rich and respectable family. Little does Elizabeth know that her best friend --- the flashy and provocative Penelope Hayes --- is one of Henry's lovers and had hoped to secure Henry's affection for herself. Elizabeth's engagement is further complicated by her own secret love affair with Will Keller, a family servant who grew up alongside Elizabeth in the Holland household.

Henry --- who is forced into the engagement by his overbearing and ambitious father --- has some secrets of his own, including a growing affection for Elizabeth's sister Diana. Their involvement offers some of the book's sweetest and most romantic moments, untainted by the societal expectations or rivalry that characterizes many of the other relationships.

THE LUXE also offers some glimpses into the serving class of New York's Gilded Age, including Lina, Elizabeth's envious and duplicitous maid. Lina discovers Elizabeth's clandestine romance and decides to use the knowledge for her own social and financial gain. She, in turn, is seduced by a shopboy, Tristan Wrigley, who --- in one of the book’s many memorable scenes --- takes Lina to a bar in the Bowery, a district infamous for its "groggeries, pawnbrokers, brothels, and dangerous characters."

Author Anna Godbersen’s excellent historical research makes the Gilded Age more than just a backdrop to the novel. THE LUXE is studded with tidbits of historical trivia and events, while her characters are influenced by the biographies of well-known socialites from the time. Godbersen’s descriptions of clothing and interiors add vibrancy to a world often pictured in the sepia tones of old photographs. But her plot owes more to the scandalous 19th-century newspaper serials than it does the serious drawing room reflections of Edith Wharton. The fact that THE LUXE begins with the disappearance and assumed death of one of the book's central characters only adds mystery to the author’s deliciously dishy melodrama.

The complex plot and attention to detail puts THE LUXE head and shoulders above many historical romances, even if the novel does not engage in much social criticism. The book is as limited in its scope of the broader world as its characters are shielded from it. Few glimpses are given into the lives of the poor, or to the consequences of being cast out of society. There are no unwanted pregnancies or much attention paid to sexual or social inequalities. The issue of women's suffrage (the right to vote) --- which is topical to the period --- does not even register in the pretty heads of the book's main characters, even if they have a tendency to act in a distressingly impetuous and modern manner.

But whether or not young ladies of the period would have behaved in the way Elizabeth, Penelope and Diana do is beside the point. The appeal to modern readers is obvious. THE LUXE's mix of female rivalry with a glamorous setting and scandal-laden plot --- not to mention lots of attractive male characters --- makes for irresistible reading. Godbersen's unpredictable twists and cliffhanger ending will leave readers hungry for the next installment of this exciting new series.

Reviewed by Sarah A. Wood on September 23, 2008

The Luxe
by Anna Godbersen

  • Publication Date: July 3, 2018
  • Genres: Historical Romance
  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: HarperTeen
  • ISBN-10: 0062852167
  • ISBN-13: 9780062852168