Emmy Watson is determined to be a fashion designer. She’s not cut out for a small town life—either as a pub owner like her mother or a wife to a local townsman. She has fashion in her veins. And being accepted as a candidate for the prestigious Fashion House is just the way to go. After arguing her way into a spot, however, Emmy is disappointed to find that the Fashion House is not what she expected—as the sole country-side candidate, she’s nothing more than a political appointment, expected to attend press junket after press junket without any actual training. But Emmy has dreams and ambition, and she’s doing to be a designer.
I wanted to like this so much more than I did. I feel like this is another one of those It’s Not You It’s Me books.
It felt a lot like The Selection meets Project Runway meets The Devil Wears Prada meets The Belles, with a group of female contestants vying for a few spots as designers in an elite fashion house, but with a lot of uneven worldbuilding, less charm and a protagonist that had a lot in common with America Singer.
It started out pretty great, with a historical fantasy-esque setting sometime in the late 1800s in a tiny country called Brittania Secunda whose economy was based solely on textiles and fashion, and whose couture designs drove the European fashion industry. There was discussion about how fashion drove politics, how it shaped the economy and culture, and how it divided the classes between the rich nobility and the poor (I really wanted to learn more of the factories and class division). It was very, very interesting and I wished that the world had been explored and developed a lot more—kind of like Torn or Spin the Dawn.
However, while I loved the fashion aspects (the book really shines when Emmy designs something or creates), I was less than enthused by the main character, the shoehorned love interest, the underdeveloped secondary characters and the haphazard worldbuilding (seriously, the worldbuilding deserved to be fleshed out so much more).
I think that much of my issues for the book was that it tried to go in a lot of different directions without ever really exploring one thoroughly. Much of the book is spent with Emmy complaining about how unfair her life as a candidate is (I felt that this could have been handled better, honestly, as less “I’m not like the other country girls”/”why is she so mean to me??” and more let’s get this shit done), disrespecting Madam Jolène (wtf was up with Emmy’s lip? Seriously, the entitlement of this country bumpkin—there’s standing up for yourself and then there’s downright stupidity), and haring off and about on grand schemes…and also falling in sudden and incomprehensible love with a reporter after three conversations.
There’s some talk about buying appointments to the Fashion House, how deserves to wear couture, the unfairness of a governmentally backed monopoly, fashion cycles, guardianship, women’s rights, politics and reformation, etc., etc.—but a lot of these really intriguing bits get dropped faster than Kitty when Emmy decides to go her own route and also pursue her love interest. Seriously, all these really, really, really fascinating things were shoved to the side for a romance plot that was staler than a five-month-old baguette.
Finally, I was super curious about why there were no male (or trans or nonbinary characters—although there is one girl who wears menswear, which was unexplored) candidates in the group, particularly since one of the prominent designers in the Fashion House was Francesco. Where did he come from? What happened to the other interns who were selected to the Fashion House each year? What did those people do with their time? Who trained any of the current candidates (many of whom were nobility) in customer service, much less couture and sewing/clothing techniques?
So many questions.
And instead of answers, we got Tristan.
I received this ARC from Edelweiss for an honest review.