REVIEW: The Christmas Chevalier by Meg Mardell
CW – on-street harassment of MC (feared to be over trans identity), blackmail of MC (over trans identity), deadnaming and misgendering of MC, trans character is not out with his family
Alvy Lexington has bought himself the best Christmas present in the world. True, the draughty flat on a dingy stretch of the Thames has none of the welcoming holiday warmth of his family’s West London townhouse. That is the entire point! No one who knows him by his given name will ever set foot here. When his old friend Laura Jacobs needs somewhere to spend the holidays, Alvy knows he should keep his distance, but… But Laura makes him do incautious things. Like offering her a job—since when did he manage a printing press?—and inviting her to a certain Christmas Eve masquerade.
Laura knows the lush London of the Lexingtons is only a temporary escape from her grey days as a governess. But she is determined to enjoy this glittering winter wonderland while it lasts, especially her dance with an angel of a man at the masquerade. Why, his French chevalier costume practically glows! While she daydreams about her white knight, an unexpected business opportunity with Alvy makes her hopeful of a new independent life. But first, she is going to have to come to a real understanding with her old friend.
Dear Ms. Mardell,
I must admit I was initially attracted to this book due to the lovely cover. Then once I read the blurb, I was intrigued. How was trans man Alvy going to move forward in his life and was his friend Laura going to be a part of that?
Alvy Lexington is lucky to have the privilege of money and family connections to ease him on his way to his new independence. With these he can move to a draughty flat in a very unfashionable part of town which hopefully no one who knows him as Miss Alvenia Lexington would ever visit. He’s been thought eccentric by his family and friends for years both in dress and actions but still it’s better if no one pays him a call.
Only when his friend Laura Jacobs seeks him out, he can’t help but let her in where she’s astonished at the printing press “Alvenia’s” had installed along with a daybed, a few chairs, and a table. Really he’s quite at home but through Laura’s eyes, he sees how eccentric it must appear.
Laura is hiding the fact that she’s been dismissed from her latest post as a governess and gladly accepts the offer to stay over the holidays at the wealthy Lexington family’s ornate townhouse along with the other flotsam and jetsam of cousins. She also attends a masquerade ball with them and dances with a handsome man in a costume of the French Ancien Regime. But he leaves early and Laura thinks she’ll never discover who he is.
Meanwhile she urges “Alvenia” to actually use the press in “her” (Alvy’s) flat and declares she (Laura) will be the editor of the paper they’ll start. But when someone begins to try to blackmail Alvy over his dress and actions and Laura instigates a way to learn who her mysterious “chevalier” is, the stakes are raised.
As I said, Alvy’s money certainly helps him to break from his past and start over as who he truly is. But this change to living as openly as possible as a man is still new to him as shown in little ways – when he begins to dance with Laura, he initially starts them waltzing as he would have danced when presenting as a woman. When out on the street in his male clothes, there are a few times when he initially fears that his trans identity has been uncovered. He still feels that when wearing a dress to visit the family townhouse, that it is a barrier behind which he hides. When he realizes that Laura accepts him as he is, a man, he is dazed with relief and joy.
Laura is used to being on her own and solving her own problems due to her feckless father’s (inferred) gambling habit. She has also been dismissed from her last post because of feminist and suffragette material her employers found. I didn’t find it odd that she barges into “Alvenia’s” flat, still thinking Alvy is a woman, with the plan for them to set up a paper and then has “Alvenia” hire her. This part of the story drags a little and I was amazed at how quickly Alvy and Laura catch onto how to set type.
It takes a while for her to find and put together the clues which tip her off that “Alvenia” (in male costume) is her chevalier. That Laura doesn’t bat an eye when she figures out that “Alvenia” is dressing in masculine clothing doesn’t surprise me due to Alvy’s history of dressing “eccentrically.” Because the concept of transgender identity wasn’t as widespread among genteel ladies in Late Victorian England as it for us today, I was a bit surprised that without Alvy explaining, Laura susses out that he identifies as a man nor does this faze her. She even begins thinking of Alvy with male pronouns with no prompting.
The blackmailer is dispatched forthwith in a way that I found delightful. I’m still not sure if the person responsible actually knows that Alvy identifies as a man or still sees him as a woman albeit one who likes to dress in men’s clothes and then still accepts him that way. But regardless, Alvy and Laura have discovered true love and appear to be headed towards a life, even if an unconventional one, together. B-