By the King’s Design

Christine Trent. Kensington, $15 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-7582-6590-6

Annabelle Stirling is a cloth merchant in Leeds in Regency Britain who, in her enthusiasm for the industrial revolution, runs afoul of a group of Luddites—one of whom is her fiancé and another her brother, Wesley—who destroy her new milling machine. When the authorities refuse to help, Belle naïvely thinks a royal audience will get justice done, and she journeys to London from Yorkshire to present her case at Parliament. The prince regent isn’t much help, but he takes a shine to her, and soon Belle finds a new business mentor in his architect, John Nash, and a romance with a shy young cabinet maker, Putnam Boyce. Belle’s life is complicated considerably, though, by her brother Wesley’s involvement in the treasonous Cato Street Conspiracy (an attempt to murder British cabinet ministers and Lord Liverpool in 1820). The book’s greatest strength is its sympathetic and interesting heroine, who manages to be capable and indomitable without being anachronistic. While Trent’s (A Royal Likeness) plot is genuinely engrossing, she has an unfortunate tendency to halt the story awkwardly for irrelevant historical characters (Jane Austen) or tidbits of historical celebrity gossip (the king and Mrs. Nash?). Still, the book is a fine quiet evening read, with a rare Regency heroine who loves her work and does it well. Agent: Helen Breitwieser, Cornerstone Literary. (Feb.)
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