Poor Callie is most definitely not one of the crowd of cool girls with whom she is sharing a high-school trip to London. She listens, awkward and excluded, as the others make plans to sneak off to a nightclub. But she has with her an emergency credit card, and maybe, just maybe, all she needs is the right shoes--shinny red patent leather pumps, from Prada. The tall heels are too much for her, however, and she slams into the sidewalk, knocking herself out cold.
When she comes to, London has gone. Making her tortuously high-heeled way down a muddy road, she arrives at a mansion. There she is mistaken for the American cousin of the family, expected in a few weeks, and finds herself the guest of Alex, a young duke, in the year 1815.
Callie is not one to blend gracefully into her surroundings, and she stirs up the social order of the household with her modern American ways and opinions. Matters come to a head when she sets in motion a scheme to save Emily, Alex's cousin, from an arranged marriage--a plot that could ruin Emily forever. To set things right, she needs Alex's help, and her relationship with Alex has been one of flying sparks from the beginning...
It's a frivolously fun read, not deep or emotionally powerful, not wildly original, but certainly entertaining. I enjoyed the fluffiness of the descriptions of clothes and dances, and the thorny romance of Callie and Alex was diverting. But the characters never became truly real to me--they stayed set pieces, moving through their English country dance. And I was never entirely convinced that I was in 1815 (there were small things that bothered me--one older woman, for instance, is named Victoria, which was in use on the continent, but wasn't in general use in England until the queen of that name was born and her name chosen by her German mother).
"Alex escorts me to the carriage, and I'm hyperconscious of how close he is. He steps to the side of the door and offers me his arm to climb in. I notice how the cuff of his jacket is turned over his hand; his knuckles almost disappear into the sleeve, and there's another shiny brass button near his wrist. Yes, his jacket definitely costs more than anything I own--even my shoes.
He's standing there with his face turned upward and such an arrogant look in his eyes that I flirt with the idea of ignoring his hand and climbing in on my own, but I don't want to anger him. So I rest my gloved hand momentarily on his fingertips and pretend I don't feel the hot tingles shooting up my arm at his touch.
Why is he being nice? Is he doing this because that's who he is, or is this one of those required things for guys of his...rank?" (page 103)
Timeslip wise, there is absolutely no reason within the story why the Prada shoes sent Callie back to 1815. The dislocation of Callie in the past, however, is rather nicely done. Because she is American, she has an excuse for her strange behaviour and her modern attitudes...and at times this is funny, but at times she strains the credulity of both co-characters and me as reader.
This book got a rave review at Austenprose, where all things Jane are celebrated. Although I enjoyed it myself, Callie and Alex are no Elizabeth and Darcy...but then, who is?