The Ringmaster’s Daughter by Grace Elliot.
I had the pleasure of reading this novel at a very early 'beta' stage, before the final edits took place. The resulting book is well edited and rolls along at a cracking pace. It's a fast paced, very enjoyable Georgian Historical Romance set in Foxhall Gardens, a fictitious pleasure ground. The location at the outset of the novel is a seedy run down place but is due for a major refit and uplift to entertain a much grander and more wealthy clientele.
Many other novels of this genre refer to similar gardens at ‘Vauxhall’ but the plot of The Ringmaster’s Daughter is unusual in that it is centred on the operation of the gardens itself, rather than the gardens being included in the plot as a venue for the ‘usually upper-class’ protagonists to drop in to sample the pleasures, or to experience nefarious deeds in the secluded and darkened walkways.
Grace Elliot shows us those famed gardens from the perspective of the operators and workers of the site, and gives us a much more down to earth view of the performing areas. Via Henrietta (Henry, the son her father never had) we experience the hard life of the performers who entertained in the circus ring; we engage in the never ending grooming and training tasks for the performing animals; and empathise with Hetty as she senses the highs and lows of gaining a rapt audience during an era when female performing was frowned upon. Hetty takes on the enormous challenge of becoming a successful performer at a time when heckling was common, and a woman stepping out of the normally accepted role made her ‘fair game’ for sexual exploitation. Mr. Wolfson’s ultimatums for improvements to her act she meets with gritted teeth and a whole lot of style. His attraction is something else she must contend with, and grace Elliott has ensured she does so in a very natural way. Mr. Wolson, an at times typically arrogant hero, also has a very human and vulnerable side to his nature. He is easy to identify with as he works out ways to combat antipathy towards his efforts to improve the seedy grounds he first encounters and make them into a site of high class, superior quality entertainment. A man of conscience, it makes his growing love for Hetty not easy path to take. Grace Elliott includes a cast of nice characters and nasty ones- all portrayed very well
If you enjoy a quick, fairly uncomplicated Georgian romance that’s refreshingly different then I certainly recommend The Ringmaster’s Daughter.
I gave this a 5* rating on Amazon and Goodreads.