It’s 1871 and Emmeline Carter is poised to take Chicago’s high society by storm. Between her father’s sudden rise to wealth, and her recent engagement to Chicago’s most eligible bachelor, Emmeline has it all. But she can’t stop thinking about the life she left behind, including her childhood sweetheart, Anders Magnuson. Fiona Byrne, Emmeline’s childhood best friend, is delighted by her friend’s sudden rise to prominence, especially since it means Fiona is free to pursue Anders herself. But when Emmeline risks everything for one final fling with Anders, Fiona feels completely betrayed.
As the summer turns to fall, the city is at a tipping point: friendships are tested, hearts are broken, and the tiniest spark might set everything ablaze.
I've only read a few of Anna Godbersen's previous books but this one caught my eye when I discovered that the story was an imagining of events leading up to the Great Fire of Chicago. Although I don't read a huge amount of historical fiction now, this used to be one of my favourite genres so I thought I would give it a try. I read it in one sitting but finished with mixed feelings about it.
Godbersen has crafted a love triangle which takes centre stage in the book. Emmeline, Fiona and Anders are childhood friends whose paths have taken them in different directions. Emmeline is now engaged and has risen through the ranks of Chicago high society, while Fiona is employed as her maid and Anders has been left behind in the old neighbourhood. It was always a given that Anders and Emmeline would one day be wed but that all seems behind them now. That is until Emmeline decided that she must see Anders one more time and a terrible sequence of events is set in motion.
I'm not a big fan of love triangles so that was a mark against the story from the start. It's well written but I felt like it wasn't hugely original and has been done so many times before. I really liked Fiona who at times seemed like the only sensible character in the book but I wasn't keen on Emmeline at all and the way that she only ever thought about herself and what she wanted. She didn't seem to care that in the process she was ruining other peoples' lives. She was also rather shallow and flighty and constantly changed her mind which grated on me.
The best part of the book was the last third. Although it was almost a given what was going to happen, there were still some surprises in store and instead of meandering along, as it had done for the start of the story, the pace of the plot picked up and there was a lot more action to enjoy.
A bit of a mixed bag for me unfortunately, although I liked the original concept.