Let’s get this part out of the way early – I was prepared to love this book and I only really like it.
Here’s the thing: there’s too much story here and I feel like a heel for saying so. But, bear with me.
One of the things I love most in really good romance writing is that the authors aren’t afraid to interact with larger themes. These books aren’t just sexytimes (we have erotica for that) they are not just character studies (although lord knows I love a character study), they are in fact observations about living, and living with emotions. In order to unpack the emotional lives of the characters the authors explore the world around them, and in historical fiction (often hanging out in the Regency era) there is plenty of political turmoil to muck about in.
Waite does just that, laying in the backdrop of her story with the absolute insane drama of George IV’s rise to the throne of England and his attempt to divorce his wife Queen Caroline in 1820. But that isn’t the only story running in the background, we are also dealing with sedition laws, the struggle of the non-free press, women’s political disadvantages across all lines including but not limited to marriage and children, the political power of the church and landed aristocracy to legally enforce morals, and the fact that sexual relationships between men were outlawed and punishable by hanging while the same relationships between women generally flew under the radar and there were no laws specifically criminalizing their activities.
All good, right? Yes, except the balance of these plot points was off. Waite aims big here and delivers a nuanced story set outside the expected. The main story of The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows is that of Agatha Griffin and Penelope Flood, they are older women (mid to late 40s), queer, and decidedly working class. It’s a lovely slowburn romance (although… maybe a little too slow for me) as these two women meet, strike an unexpected friendship through letters, and become each other’s partner long before they become lovers. The hurdles in their relationship are based on the societal upheavals happening around them as well as the day to day lives they lead.
I did really like this book, and I love that Waite populated her book with characters living all sorts of lives. Some same sex pairs sharing households were together, some were not, and some were left up in the air. Marriages ranged from good to awful, and the clannishness of a small town was explored, as was the parallels to the neighborhoods in London. There’s so much here that’s so good, I just wish I loved it.