Bed of Flowers, by Erin Satie

>> Thursday, July 26, 2018

TITLE: Bed of Flowers
AUTHOR: Erin Satie

PAGES: 305
PUBLISHER: Self-published

SETTING: 19th century England
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: Sweetness and Light #1

Bonny Reed is beautiful, inside and out.

A loyal friend and loving daughter, she’s newly engaged to her small town’s most eligible bachelor. She’s happy for herself—but mostly for her family, who need the security her marriage will bring.

An old enemy shatters her illusions.

First Baron Loel cost Bonny’s family her fortune. Now he’s insisting that her fiancé has hidden flaws, secrets so dark that—if she believed him—she’d have to call off the wedding.

How will she choose?

When the truth comes out, Bonny will have to choose between doing what’s right and what’s easy. Between her family and her best friend. And hardest of all—between her honor and the love of a man who everyone wants her to hate.
Bonnie Reed's family's fortunes changed the day a fire destroyed the warehouses round her small town's port. Her father owned several of them, and even though they didn't end up in the streets, it's been a steep comedown. Whereas they were one of the richest families in town, they are now living in what can best be described as genteel poverty. Before the fire, Bonnie's prospects were very high. She's beautiful, and with a nice dowry she would have expected a great marriage. These days, she's been half-heartedly courted by a rich man in town, who clearly can't quite bring himself to propose to someone so clearly beneath him.

The fire changed the lives of many people in town, and that includes that of the man who caused it. Until that day, Orson, now Baron Loel, didn't have a care in the world. He was the spoiled son of the local nobility. And then a simple stumble when mooring his yacht overturned a lamp and whoosh! That was it. A lot of the family fortune went in trying to compensate the town's losses, and his parents blamed him so pointedly that they tied up the estate in such a way that he could take no advantage of it when he inherited. He still lives there, and has found a way to make a living while fulfilling the terms of his parents' will (he has become a sort of orchid grower/dealer, which is a huge part of the book -see below), but it's a difficult life.

As the book starts, Bonnie's suitor has finally decided to propose (think Darcy's proposal to Elizabeth, but if you were to imagine Darcy as cruel and careless). She agrees, but then circumstances lead her to come into contact with Loel more often (he's a bit of a pariah, so she's barely seen him since the fire), and he ends up sharing some very worrying information about what her fiancé gets up to in his spare time. And now Bonnie needs to decide whether restoring her family's social position is worth her unhappiness.

I enjoyed this one very much. Satie's writing is beautiful. It's vivid and evocative without veering into purple territory. In her first couple of books I thought that, for all its beauty, the writing was maybe a bit self-conscious and on-the-nose, but that's resolved itself with experience. No such problem with this book.

I also like that Satie creates characters and relationships that feel fresh and are never clichéd. In this particular book, I was particularly taken with Bonnie's complex relationship with her family. It's clear that her parents love her, but at the same time, they don't take well her doubts about her fiancé. Their fall in social position has taken a toll on them, and when certain of Bonnie's actions threaten to have an even more negative impact on them, they're not particularly forgiving, in a way that I must say felt understandable.

I was also quite intrigued by Bonnie's friends (Bed of Flowers starts a series, and I expect the next books will be about them) and enjoyed their relationships. They've got super interesting backstories (e.g. one seems to be inspired by Sara Forbes Bonetta), and I'm looking forward to their books.

The other thing I loved was all the orchid stuff. This is set at the time of what's known as the Orchidelirium, a sort of English version of the Tulip Mania. People were going gaga over orchids, and new or particularly exotic varieties sold for huge amounts. There was a lot of money to be made in dealing in them, but also a lot of risk, because very little was known about how to grow them and keep them alive, so keeping new ones from dying on the way back to England was almost as hard as finding them. Anyway, in addition to the topic being fascinating, Loel's venture importing, nurturing and selling orchids plays a big role in the relationship between him and Bonnie, both in setting up the circumstances in which it gets started and in developing it. And by the way, in one of those lovely coincidences that life sometimes throws your way, the Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast had an episode about the Orchidelirium at the same time I was reading the book. Worth a listen.

So, lots of good stuff here. Unfortunately, what didn't really work for me that well was the romance itself. I just didn't feel the connection between Bonnie and Loel. My reaction to their realisation that they were in love was that I just didn't feel they knew each other well enough for that. It's not that there was something wrong with the concept of these two being together, it's just that it all felt a bit uninteresting compared to the other stuff going on.

I also had some issues with the way Satie set up a conflict between them. There's a point when Bonnie does something that Loel gets extremely angry about, and I genuinely did not get why he a) would think that of her and not believe her (really, what she explained was a lot more believable than what he assumed about her actions), and b) why he'd be so incandescently angry about it anyway.

You'd think that since this is a romance novel the main romance not quite working would ruin it, but for some reason, that just wasn't the case here. Plenty other stuff that I enjoyed, so I didn't mind not getting excited about what's supposed to be the main course. Oh well.

To finish, I'm usually annoyed about those "several years later" epilogues (oh, look how many adorable kids they have!), but this was one book where I did genuinely want to see how the main characters would get on, not so much in their relationship, but how they'd get on in a more material sense. I guess we might catch glimpses of how they're doing in future books, and I will look forward to that.



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