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The Hellion’s Waltz by Olivia Waite

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The Hellion’s Waltz

by Olivia Waite
June 15, 2021 · Avon

I never thought I’d say this, but The Hellion’s Waltz is just too darn nice. This historical f/f romance is beautifully written and full of kind, courageous, intelligent characters. It is also boring. I never would have thought that I’d get tired of reading a book in which people say kind and encouraging things to each other, but it turns out that yes, I really can have too little conflict in a story.

The book consists of two separate plots that are supposed to mesh seamlessly but instead feel awkwardly pitched together. Sophie’s family builds, plays, and tunes pianos. She was the victim of a swindler and has lost her self-confidence as a performer but gained a passionate hatred of swindlers. She catches Madeline, a weaver, in the act of pulling a con and confronts her. Madeline and Sophie become unlikely allies and almost instant lovers as Sophie struggles to regain her confidence and prepare for a concert, and Maddy attempts to gain justice for her fellow weavers by conning an evil boss.

This book consists of a lot of prep time as Maddie and her fellow weavers prepare to swindle their boss, Mr. Giles. Sophie gets over her dislike of con artists almost immediately because Mr. Giles is so one-dimensionally evil that it’s impossible not to side with anyone who has it in for him. With the “I hate swindlers and you are one” conflict out of the way within about five minutes, Sophie and Maddie proceed to enjoy having sex and falling in love while they pursue almost completely different plot lines (concert prep and swindle prep).

This is a lovely book for history nerds since it is full of details about the history of pianos, the history of weaving, and the labor movement. All these details contribute to the slow pace of the plot, and whether you enjoy them or not will depend entirely on whether you enjoy learning about the minutiae of yore. Did you read the chapters in Moby Dick about whale classification? Did you enjoy the chapters in Les Miserables about the history of the Paris sewer system?

If, like me, you love that stuff, then this book holds delights, although a swiftly moving plot is not one of them. This book consists of a lot of history, many pages of people having long, thoughtful conversations, and a great deal of meticulous preparation for the eventual con, which, once it is fully enacted, happens very quickly. Much is described but very little actually happens, and even the preparation for the con and the concert happens largely off page while the pep talks people deliver about both happen on page.

Sophie and Maddie have a lovely romance full of great sex and mutual respect and admiration. I appreciated the fact that both of these women are working class. There is not a duke or duchess in sight, and this makes for a refreshing change from the many aristocrats of historical romance (I love a good Earl as much as anybody, but variety is a lovely thing).

However, I was startled at how quickly the two fell into bed, expecting more caution from the reserved Sophie. It seemed out of character for her to act so quickly. That said, I was also gratified by how much everyone in the large collection of supporting characters views their relationship utterly without judgment.

Most of this book consists of characters giving pep talks to other characters. This is both delightful and…I can’t believe I’m saying this since I love pep talks…it’s boring. There is so little conflict that I would read a paragraph, say, “aww, that was nice” and wander off again. That’s actually a pretty good way to read the book: keep it around, and when you are feeling insecure, you can flip it open and read a random passage in which people are utterly lovely to each other.

I liked everything about this book except for the glacial pace. I could not keep my mind on it. It took me two weeks to finish a book that would normally last me two days. Perhaps readers who are forewarned will find the book less frustrating. I hope so, because truly people say the kindest things to each other in the course of the story. Read this for the representation and the affirmation, but not for the slow plot.

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