This book tells the story of Jane Bell, a young woman in 1820 England who was born to privilege but married beneath her. When her innkeeper husband dies, she is left to inherit the inn. Falling into disrepair, the inn has begun to lose business and profitability. Added to that strain is the mysterious debt of 15,000 pounds Jane’s husband contracted prior to his death, a debt Jane must repay or lose the inn. With this goal, Jane must overcome her forceful mother-in-law’s doubts, navigate a world of business that is usually reserved for men, and make friendships with those who can help her succeed.
The story has three main narrators–Jane, our heroine; Thora, her embittered mother-in-law; and Rachel, an estranged friend of Jane’s who is going through hard circumstances of her own. The theme of the book focuses on a woman’s role in business in Regency England, offering not-so-subtle criticisms of the male-dominated society where a wife could own no property. All three of the narrators are unmarried, and the independence that they would have to surrender should they marry is clearly shown. One minor theme, which I appreciated, was the loss and pain that comes from miscarrying a child. Klassen, per usual, handled that topic deftly, and I even shed a few tears during one of the scenes.
The large cast of characters took me fifty pages or so to sort out who was who, but once I did, I was able to appreciate the complexity of the story. Because this book is the first in a series, the romance for the main character Jane was left unresolved. We see several different options for a burgeoning relationship, but no clear direction on which man is for her. I am excited to read more Tales from Ivy Hill and look forward to Klassen’s next release.
I received a free review copy from Netgalley and the publisher. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.