Goodreads: The Davenports
Series: Davenports #1
Age Category: Young Adult
The year is 1910 and, thanks to the efforts of the formerly enslaved William Davenport, his family enjoys wealth and status in Chicago–and are one of the few Black families to do so. Olivia Davenport dreams of making her family proud with a good marriage, but finds herself falling in love with a political activist instead. Meanwhile, her sister Helen wants nothing more than to work in her father’s company and scorns the idea of falling in love at all–until she falls for her sister’s suitor. Their brother John hopes to bring the family business into the future, but risks it by falling in love with their maid, Amy-Rose. And Olivia’s best friend Ruby has her sights set on winning John’s heart to please her parents, until she ruins her own plan when another man captures her heart. All of them soon must choose. Will they do what their parents and society expects? Or risk it all for love?
I admit I do not read much romance, as I typically struggle with the genre. I enjoy romance in a book, but typically prefer that other plot elements take center stage. The Davenports, however, intrigued me with its promise of overlooked history (as well as that gorgeous cover!). So I took a chance. And I can definitely say that The Davenports has all the drama a person could want in a romance.
The point of the book is apparently not to be suspenseful, since the official summary gives the main plot away. Essentially, every main character in the book is in love with the “wrong” person. Olivia is meant to marry a society gentleman, but prefers a political activist. Her sister Helen loves her suitor. Ruby loves John, but John loves someone else. And so on and on. The point is to discover how all of them will figure out how to disentangle themselves. The book has a motivating message about being true to one’s self and disregarding society’s expectations. I think the book is even sincere, since this is a YA. Maybe the maid really will marry the son of one of the city’s most powerful businessmen! But, still, there is an element of doubt that will keep readers flipping pages.
One should note that this book really is primarily a romance. It is set in 1910 and inspired by actual historical figures. However, the intention is not to delve into the past or educate readers, though events relating to the Jim Crow laws are pushed forward in time so Olivia (and readers) can learn more about them. There are even small details and expressions that are anachronistic– a reference to espresso that seems out of place and a mention of “mutual uncoupling,” for instance. But I believe the book is meant to be a sort of YA Bridgerton, meaning that the romance remains the focus. Even the characters’ other concerns in regards to finding their purposes in life or their identities (like joining political causes, starting a small business, or convincing their father to start manufacturing automobiles instead of carriages) feel more like set dressing than primary concerns. Readers who expect otherwise may be disappointed.
My main issue, however, is not with the genre, but with the fact that series or at least a sequel is planned. The book has four POVs and probably should have been split into books each focusing on one of the girls. Instead, readers flip from each girl to the next in succession, with the final climax occurring at the end. That is, while most romances have the breakup scene/obstacle to romance in the middle, The Davenports throws all the wrenches in at the final chapters, as a sort of cliffhanger. It feels odd for a genre book to be doing something so un-generic. I would have been more satisfied had this been one book with a conclusion, or one book focused on one protagonist, with the rest receiving companion books.
All that being said, The Davenports is a fun romance! The relationships are deeply tangled and readers who enjoy the genre will surely root for the sympathetic characters and wonder how they will all end up with the right person in the end. An entertaining read!
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