mogul is the third installment in joanna shupe's knickerbocker club series. the books take place during new york's gilded age, which resembles a regency with more technology. in this installment we finally get calvin cabot's backstory, and it's a doozy.
raised by ardent missionaries, calvin spent his childhood in poverty and deprivation. and he never wants to live like that again. when he met lily davies and fell in love, it was the real thing. but her father's interference and the secrets he was afraid to share meant that their sudden marriage was annulled just as suddenly, and very, very quietly. calvin has done his best to forget lily, without much luck. and lily, who believes that calvin only married her for her money, is so quick to believe the worst of calvin at every turn.
this is what made their story somewhat frustrating. because if these two characters bothered to actually tell each other what was going on, they would have saved themselves so much grief. also, at one point lily says that she tried to contact calvin twice, but he never responded. he says he never heard from her again. did her father interfere more? at a certain point we're given to understand that if either of them had actually fought for each other he would have overcome his objections, but other times it's hard to see that would have been true.
anyway, calvin and lily reconnect because lily's younger brother tom has gotten himself into trouble with the nefarious mr. lee, who unfortunately resembles the lo pan character from big trouble in little china. here's the thing, i think shupe was trying to bring up a dark period of american history and american attitudes toward immigration. and indeed the chinese exclusion act of 1882 provides a powerful lesson on what it means to exclude entire groups of people from immigrating, and perhaps certain lawmakers who have similar ideas should read more about it and learn about the consequences. the problem is that by framing the story in such a way where the villian is predicated on stereotypes that led to the act in the first place the story gets a bit muddied. but unlike so many other romances, at least there is some diversity here, more steps need to be made to include positive stereotypes as the dominant story. there are a number of asian characters in the story who are good people, and who do only good things, but mr. lee is a cornerstone of the story, and unfortunately that detracts from the message of inclusiveness as a whole. especially given how horrible some of the actions he takes are in the third act.
also, while it makes sense that calvin would be tolerant of mixed race marriages and other cultures given his upbringing. the other lead and supporting characters' blasé acceptance is a bit harder to swallow, because that in no way fits with the attitudes of that time, no matter how illuminated the individual. society doesn't just accept banning an entire group of people from immigrating without some strong prejudices being in play. and we are talking about very sheltered and privileged people here.
one final comment, i don't know who did the cover design for this novel, but they did an awful job matching the character descriptions to the photograph they ended up using on the cover. the lead heroine is described several times as having blonde hair, and even if this is the image they wanted to use, if the publisher had a halfway decent cover designer, they should have been able to adjust the hair color in photoshop. and sure, i get that it's just the cover image, and it shouldn't affect how you read the story, but the truth is that the cover gives you a visual cue, and when your written cues don't match it is very distracting.
**mogul will publish on january 31, 2017. i received an advance reader copy courtesy of netgalley/kensington books (zebra) in exchange for my honest review.