Congratulations to A.E. Walnofer on the recent publication of her latest novel, Out of the Bower! If you love well-researched historical romance, this is one hidden gem you won’t want to miss!
Synopsis from the back cover:
London, 1817: Celia Woodlow is trapped in Titania’s Bower, a brothel disguised as a coffee house. She is wretchedly resigned to this fate until high-spirited Honora Goodwin appears. Shared tragedy quickly bonds them in friendship and they determine to flee the Bower together, though they wonder at their survival outside its walls.
Suddenly, Honora vanishes without a word, and Celia is left feeling betrayed and hopeless.
Barclay Durbin, a young street preacher, desires little more than to help London’s destitute masses. After he encounters Honora, injured in her flight from the Bower, he comes to believe she is divinely appointed to become his wife.
Honora knows that encouraging the good-hearted gentleman’s attentions may prove to ensure her future security, but she is intent on liberating Celia. Telling Barclay only parts of her own story, Honora enlists the besotted young man to help her.
When their plan goes awry, Honora realizes that only the truth can deliver them from the emotional and societal maelstrom in which they find themselves. But what will become of Honora and Barclay’s budding attachment? And will Celia ever gain her freedom?
Out of the Bower tells the tale of an objectionable romance, an ardent friendship, and the ever-essential redemption of self.
I was super excited to read this novel because it combines two of my favorite nerdy pleasures: historical fiction and a dash of Methodism!
Clean historical romance is my personal guilty pleasure, and I can often be found lost in the pages of an escapist romance novel. I am particularly happy when the novel is well grounded in historical research. It is clear that the author has done her homework. The world she builds feels incredibly real, in fact, sometimes too real. The heroines face intense danger, to the point that I found my heart racing and actually had to step away from the book for a while (TW: Threat of sexual assault). Although in the end, the hero and heroine eventually do find their HEA or “happily ever after,” (the expected ending in any true romance novel), there is a great deal of both internal and external struggle as they travel on their journey together.
The hero, Barclay, was my favorite male romantic read that I encountered in 2020.
He is mild, kind, intelligent, and has a very rich inner spiritual life. Although he is a person of deep faith and convictions, he never seems pedantic or sanctimonious. Instead, he struggles with very real societal pressures and expectations while managing to remain true to his deeply held faith. Although Barclay is technically not a Methodist street preacher, there is definitely a great deal of “Methodist influence” on the character. Personally, I think it works well in the structure of the book that Barclay is not officially Methodist. This allows the author to freely explore the world she has crafted without being overly beholden to church history.
Finally, another wonderful aspect of this book the way it centers on the richness and depth that can exist within female platonic friendship.
Often in romance, the hero and heroine can be flat characters who are only interested in one another. This is far from the case in Out of the Bower. The protagonist’s driving force is her desire to help her female friend. This is a motivation with which I could whole heartedly identify.
Although Out of the Bower is technically historical romance, it is so much more. It is literary fiction with elements of romance that deals with deep questions about faith, society’s expectations, and the power of female friendship. I highly recommend it.