REVIEW: Bed of Flowers by Erin Satie
Dear Ms. Satie:
I have you in my mind as one of a handful of authors I’ve liked but haven’t read enough of – meaning I always mean to read more of your work but somehow life interferes and I forget, until I’m reminded again. Anyway, when I heard that you had a new book coming out, I snapped up an advance copy. I then went back and checked my log and it turned out I’ve only read books 1 and 4 of your No Better Angels series. I gave The Secret Heart a B (I remember some of the issues I had with it), but I gave book 4, The Young Blood, an A. An A is a really rare grade for me for romances these days.
I definitely do need to get back and read the other books in that series.
Anyway, Bed of Flowers is the first book in a new series. It’s 1853, and Bonny Reed is the acknowledged beauty of New Quay, a small English shipping town fallen on hard times. Early in the book, her long-time beau, Charles Gavin, finally proposes. He manages to insult Bonny by implying that he’s settling for her (since he has money and she doesn’t), but Bonny overlooks this rudeness in her relief and gratitude at his offer. Bonny knows she’s the hope her family – mother, father and younger sister – have for lifting all of them up. Bonny’s family was once one of the most prosperous in New Quay. But eight years previously, a fire destroyed the dockside warehouses her father owned, and her family’s fortunes never recovered.
Baron Orson Loel also came from a wealthy and prominent family, the only titled family in the area. But when he was 18, he accidentally started a fire that burned a significant and important portion of New Quay, and as a result everyone in town, including Bonny and her family (especially Bonny and her family) hate him. Though he mostly stays to himself on his family’s rundown estate, Loel does venture into town to receive mysterious deliveries from people the townsfolk deem unsavory. This adds to his villainous reputation.
Bonny speaks to Loel for the first time in eight years when she asks him for a contribution to the lending library she and her best friend Cordelia have started. Bonny and Cordelia believe that everyone, especially women, especially working class women, should have access to books. They also believe that not all of these books need be “improving” tracts, so they try to collect and lend out popular fiction. They decide they need more books since their subscriptions have grown, and since Bonny is so beautiful and effortlessly charming, Cordelia insists that she be in charge of trying to get donations out of anyone in the area who may have books to lend. It’s on the way back from a friend’s house on this errand that Bonny passes Loel’s home and impulsively decides to ask for a contribution (knowing his family had a huge library back in the day).
Loel went away after the fire. He first tried to make amends, apologizing to the families that were directly affected by the fire, but he didn’t find much forgiveness. His parents also tried to right things; that’s how they lost all their money. They died while Loel was away at sea, traveling the world and becoming an orchid collector (remember the mysterious packages?). There was enough bad blood between parents and son that he was effectively cut out of the will when they died, and he only lives on the estate by paying rent. His reasons for *having* to live in a place where everyone hates him more or less made sense in the context of the story.
Loel is attracted to Bonny, just like every other heterosexual male in the village. They have a few minor clashes, and he ends up telling her a scandalous secret about her betrothed, though his motives for doing so aren’t exactly clear. That sets Bonny off on a quest to find out the truth about Charles, and what she finds out ends up changing the course of her life, and eventually, Loel’s.
In some ways, Bed of Flowers is a pretty simple story, but there’s nonetheless a lot going on underneath the surface. Bonny is a dutiful daughter and wants to be a good wife to Charles, but she begins to realize that those people she wants to sacrifice for and protect wouldn’t necessarily do the same for her. It’s a painful realization.
It wasn’t until after I’d finished reading Bed of Flowers that I saw your blog post about this being a Beauty and the Beast story. I hadn’t made the connection when I read it, but honestly it made so much sense in retrospect. Loel is not a *literal* beast – neither part-animal or even physically scarred as heroes generally are in Beauty and the Beast stories. But he’s deeply damaged, and his damage has caused him to withdraw from society (which is just as well since the society in question hates and fears him). Bonny ends up being an exemplar of “Beauty” – at first her looks seem to be the main thing to recommend her (well, that and her sweet and charming disposition). But she ends up having a stronger spine and truer moral compass than anyone, herself included, would suspect.
There are some things that felt like they were left hanging at the end of the story, but I ultimately saw that as a deliberate choice, even if it didn’t make me entirely comfortable (I have a love-hate relationship with tidy endings). I’ll spoil-mark this since it has to do with things that happen late in the book:
Spoiler (“spoiler”): Show
The writing in Bed of Flowers is lovely and the characterizations had real depth. I felt more for Bonny than Loel, though his stoicism regarding the fire and his subsequent treatment by the citizens of New Quay did make him a sympathetic hero. My grade is a high A-.