3 out of 4 stars
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At first glance, Sylvie Gallimore’s The Poet’s Trap appears to be a typical 19th century historical romance. This story is a coming of age novel, as many of the characters are embarking on their adult lives. It is also about family and their intricate relationships. Elements of mystery are intertwined throughout the story as well, in creative ways, making it distinctive in its genre.
The Fitzroy family’s Falford Hall is the primary setting of The Poet’s Trap. Esme Fitzroy is a young woman on the verge of being introduced to society. Sir Henry, Esme’s widowed father, is trying to guide his daughter through this stage of life while reluctantly following society’s expected norms. His brother, William, is far more concerned about what society thinks about their family than about how anyone is feeling, which causes constant friction between the brothers. Tom, the stable boy, and Esme are in love and desiring to marry, which is forbidden by society, as one must marry into their own class. Tanner is Sir Henry’s right hand man on the estate; Sir Henry would call him “friend” despite Tanner belonging to the serving class. Robert, William’s son, is also on the verge of adulthood, attempting to become a poet in London, while also being hesitantly optimistic with his desire to marry his first cousin. Robert’s poetry affects everyone at Falford Hall, both gentry and servant alike, in ways that no one expects, driving the rest of the story.
Sir Henry deals with his servants in ways not typically seen in most historical novels from this time period. He is kind, caring and listens to their input. He treats them as human beings while his brother William treats them like disposable property. These views deeply influence the decision Sir Henry must make about Esme’s love interest, Tom. Gallimore explores the class hierarchy in ways not typically seen in most novels by including not only the perspective of the gentry but also of the servant class. For example, when William and Sir Henry argue about consequences for Tom’s expressions of love for Esme, the author shares Tom’s fears of being sent away, from his perspective, with thoughts of how it would affect his mother as well. Ultimately, Sir Henry deals with Tom in an unexpected and life-altering way, which changes the course of everyone’s life.
Esme meets Agnes, a servant in Aunt Mary’s household, who is also on the verge of adulthood. Agnes eventually comes to stay at Falford Hall as Esme’s companion. Agnes’ background is in question, which creates interesting revelations as she finds her own love interest at Falford Hall. Who is she and where did she really come from? The answers are in some ways not surprising, but Gallimore brings in enough twists that the reader does not feel like they can dictate the ending without reading all the way through the story.
One can often tell when a story is happening within the first few pages of the story. In The Poet’s Trap, one must read into the clues to discern the time period. Discussion of Darwin and the World’s Fair in both Paris and London help the reader to know that this is happening in the mid-19th century. Without those clues, the time period could have really been anywhere from the late 17th century to the late 19th century based on the cultural context given.
The author demonstrated how life’s experiences can change a person. Watching Robert go from being under his father’s influence to under his uncle’s influence was interesting. Seeing how he reacted to his own mistakes and how this helps the reader to engage with the character showed Gallimore’s ability as a writer.
The primary weakness in this story is the amount of time spent on Tom’s journal. The story is told in the third person except for when the reader is reading from Tom’s journal, in which he shares what is happening in his life. Were Tom the main protagonist, this might make sense. Unfortunately, the excessive use of the journal does distract from the story as a whole. For this reason, I rate this book 3 out of 4 stars. The Poet’s Trap is an easy yet worthwhile read that I would recommend to the romantic at heart.
The Poet's Trap
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