REVIEW: Sixpenny Octavo (The Old Bridge Inn Series) by Annick Trent
A standalone F/F historical romance
Clockmender Hannah Croft’s friend Molly has been arrested for her connections to a Jacobin club. In the tumultuous political climate of 1790s Britain, being in the wrong place at the wrong time is enough to land Molly in gaol. Hannah’s one hope to free her lies in the testimony of housemaid Lucy Boone.
Lucy has spent her entire life moving from one household to another, never forming a true connection with her fellow servants—nor with her occasional lovers. She prefers it that way. When you can rely on yourself, why would you need anyone else? But when Hannah Croft asks for help, she cannot say no.
Working together to free Molly, the two women don’t try to ignore their growing attraction. For Hannah, Lucy is a beacon of hope at a difficult time. And Lucy finds herself loving her new life, made welcome by Hannah and her friends.
But their situation is fraught with danger. Rumours abound of an informant in their midst, and a sinister man from the magistrate’s office dogs Lucy’s steps. One wrong move could land them in gaol—or splinter their new relationship from within.
Dear Ms. Trent,
If my library hadn’t bought a copy of this book and I thought the cover looked interesting, I don’t know how long it would have taken me to discover it. As it is, I’m now interested in going back and reading the first (standalone m/m) book in the series.
Once I read the blurb the next thing that appealed to me is that the two lead characters are not only women but working class people – not something I’ve often seen in historical books. Lucy Boone has been “in service” since she was young and her parents both died. Hannah Croft and her childhood friend Molly Painter were taught the art and skill of clock mending by Molly’s father. Their lives all come together as British government officials – running scared after the upheaval of the French Revolution – harshly put down any hint of sedition.
Lucy is called upon to give witness at the trial of her employer – a man who often entertained others who complained about the government. During the questioning, Lucy shows the perfect “dumb servant” face while sounding earnest. Hannah realizes that Lucy might be able to help Molly as Lucy can attest that the only interactions Molly and Mr. Oldham had were in regards to work. Lucy is, understandably, reluctant to stick her neck out. She’s perfected the art of keeping to herself and looking out for her own best interests. Yet Molly is someone Lucy knows and knows is probably innocent. She decides she can’t do nothing if there is a chance to get the cheerful Molly out of prison.
As Lucy’s employer has now been sentenced to transportation, she unknowingly moves near where Hannah is now staying with friends as the business Hannah had with Molly has collapsed. There Lucy discovers a new way to earn a living and the freedom that comes with that. After giving testimony about Molly, Lucy also starts to attend the book reading club of which Hannah and Molly have been a part. The club that might have been the cause of Molly’s arrest but which is also bringing Hannah and Lucy closer together.
This is definitely a slow burn romance. In fact I’d almost say that the historical fiction/women’s fiction aspect of the book overshadows the romance a little bit. Lucy is a forthright person when she isn’t blanking her expression in front of her “betters.” She has engaged in short term relationships with women but never expected things to last long. When she’s needed to leave a work position, she’s always gone without any second thoughts or there have been times when a lover has married. This is the late eighteenth century (after 1798) and it’s expected for women to marry for status or financial security even in the absence of love. Lucy is a bit of a flirt and gives Hannah winks and smiles to suss out Hannah’s possible interests.
Hannah on the other hand, is the quiet, retiring part of the friendship duo she’s had with Molly since childhood. She’s relied on Molly to “read the room” and thus is hesitant to trust her instincts that maybe Lucy wants more than just friendship from her. Their slow progression from acquaintances, to friends, to lovers takes a while. I never got the feeling that, unlike homosexuals, they feared death if their sexual relationship was exposed but just that they’d rather not be seen and wanted to stay below the radar – so to speak. They did freely hold hands and link arms in public and there was a mention that long term relationships between women might not be as unknown as Lucy thought.
As much as I liked watching Lucy and Hannah sound out their feelings, what struck me most in the book was the suppression of sedition going on. Free speech? Only if you support King George and the status quo. Lucy’s employer had been advocating for middle class men to have the right to vote for MPs but certainly not the working man much less women. When Lucy attends a free reading lesson at a local church, the upper class women leading it shake their heads at Lucy’s inquiry of learning to write as well. All the working class need to know is how to read improving tracts. Molly was first kept in a local jail for two months under tolerable conditions yet later moved to Newgate where she would be in with murderers and rapists. Oh, and yes, Habeas corpus had been suspended so there was no limit to how long she could have been kept there. One thing I’m skeptical about is having Lucy’s employer act as his own lawyer and testify on his own behalf.
At one point Hannah and Lucy treat themselves to an evening at Vauxhall where Lucy, seeing some Society women, emphatically denies ever wanting to be an wealthy woman hemmed in by rules and guardians. It’s much better to have less money and more freedom in her opinion. I cheered her on as she figured out another way to support herself and then took control of the enterprise. But it’s Hannah who convinces Lucy to give other people a chance. The subscription reading club is fascinating and proof that people want to read and learn as well as have fellowship while they’re doing that.
The resolution of the informant is perhaps a bit easy yet also something that costs a bit of trust. Hannah and Molly might have a way to begin to build their business back. Lucy has discovered that leaving herself open to friendship will need a bit of faith. But Hannah and Lucy are also ready to take a chance on a future together. B