Anna Godbersen's Luxe series is one that I started years ago, when I was still in high school and all the books hadn't been released yet. I read the first three, but by the time the fourth one came out it wasn't on my radar anymore, and I consequently missed how the whole dramatic affair ends. Because that's what this series is: a dramatic affair. Basically, it's a soap opera for teenage girls set in 1899 and the first year or two of the 1900s, with New York high society playing all the leading parts. It's definitely a drama more than a romance, because while there are romantic elements the real intrigue is all of the plotting and scheming and double-crossing the character do to each other.
Our main characters are four young ladies in their teenage years: Penelope Hayes, sisters Elizabeth and Diana Holland, and the Hollands' maid Lina Broud. Penelope, Elizabeth, and Diana are all high society, while Lina is of the servant class and is left looking from the outside at all of their grand doings. The story begins and ends with Elizabeth Holland's funeral, and the middle bits fill in all of the events leading up to it. The Holland family, recently out of mourning for the late Mr. Holland, has been ruined by the mess of debts that Mr. Holland left behind. Mrs. Holland informs Elizabeth that it's her duty to marry someone filthy rich in order to preserve the family. This has a dual negative effect: the man Mrs. Holland has picked out is Henry Schoonmaker, who Elizabeth's best friend Penelope wants to marry (though she hasn't told Elizabeth this yet) and it also interferes with Elizabeth's own ongoing love affair with the family coachman, Will. And Will is also the (unknowing) object of Lina's affections, and Lina hates Elizabeth because Will loves Elizabeth and not her! Scandal! Scandal all around! And then, to add even more scandal, when Henry shows up in the Holland home, he and Diana become ridiculously attracted to each other! Gasp! Swoon!
Let me be clear: this is not a complicated book, nor a serious one, nor is it something that should be read for serious historical consideration. This is basically what I imagine a turn-of-the-twentieth-century Gossip Girl would look like (though I have never read Gossip Girl; it just seems to give off that vibe). It's something that's light and fluffy but filled with drama. There are no real twists and nothing that's going to make you scratch your pretty little head in an attempt to understand it. All of the characters are pretty much abysmal people in one way or the other, with the exception of Diana who is overall a very nice girl and is really too good to be mixed up in all of the dramatic back-stabbing and double-crossing surrounding her. But--and this is key--it's pretty evident that they're all terrible people from the beginning. There's no leading you on and then having one person slap someone with some terrible action. Everything is very obvious which I think is important when you're writing terrible characters but you also want people to like your book, unless you're writing a mystery or thriller (which have more leeway in this department because TWISTS) which this is most definitively not. If there is a real heroine of this series, it's her. The writing is, consequentially, exactly what you'd expect from this type of book aimed at teenage girls. It's nothing stellar, and at least in the e-book version there are some serious formatting issues with dialogue that can make it very hard to tell who's talking at some points; I can't remember if that's the case in the print version or not. But I still think it's perfectly readable and enjoyable, and overall is exactly what it's meant to be. I can't wait to finish this series and also start on Godbersen's other period series, which I expect to be filled with just as much drama as this.
Four stars out of five.