Happy Holidays book lovers! Today I’m delighted to share my final review of 2018, The Secret Vow by Natalie Meg Evans. Firmly in the realm of chic lit and romance, I have most definitely strayed from my regular selections. But the cover and description were both too pretty to resist – and it turned out to be a damned good decision because The Secret Vow turned out to be an amazing read chalk full of history, fashion, and family drama to boot.
Title: The Secret Vow
Author: Natalie Meg Evans
Publication Date: December 11, 2018
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Romance
Themes: Family, Survival, Coming of Age, First Love
My Rating: 4.5/ 5
Katya – young, beautiful and impoverished – arrives in Paris, hoping to begin a new life. She leaves behind a terrible secret, and her survival in this strange and beautiful new city depends on nobody ever discovering who – and what – she is.
Immediately, Katya is swept up in the city’s glamour – particularly the boutiques on the main boulevard, where glittering gowns are hand-sewn for an exclusive clientele. Dare Katya dream that she may someday wear – or even design – one of these dazzling creations? It feels like an impossible wish, until she meets businessman Harry Morten.
Tall, handsome and well-connected, Harry could give Katya everything she wants and more… but at what price? And should she break the vow she’s made and trust him with her secret when her very survival could be at stake?
I’ve been sitting on writing this review for a few weeks now, mostly because I didn’t want my deeply ingrained resistance to romance to bias my words. But, as much as I hate a healthy dose of mush, the dynamic between Katya and Harry was so reminiscent of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy that I couldn’t help but be drawn to it. A poor and striving young lady in want of an income, a rich and haughty young heir with a good heart, and both too proud and petulant to allow for their emotions to win out sooner. Now throw in a distant but overbearing mother, a brash and disrespectful younger sister, and a minor miscommunication regarding a betrothal and you know you’ve got a winning recipe.
Of course, that’s about as far as the Austen parallels go. The Secret Vow is set at the close of WWI and during the height of the Russian Revolution which adds a dash of fear, desperation and rationing that really heightens the drama. Add to that the immeasurable loss that the Vytenis family suffered as they fled, the impossible choices that haunt Katya as she strives to make a new life for her family in Paris, and the fact that the Vytenis’s have former friends looking to bring them down further at every turn.
While I appreciated the difficulties Katya encountered with her mother, the dynamic between Tatya and her older sister was perhaps the most fraught – with the elder taking on the weight of the family and the younger thinking of no one but herself. I went through the entire book wanting to smack Tatya for her impertinence, but I suppose that’s the mark of a well written character, as they get so far under your skin as to actually aggravate you! And really, what’s a good family drama without a character that you love to hate?
Katy too had moments where I wanted to bring her back down to reality, but I suppose when you’re a former princess adapting to relative poverty there’s sure to be some growing pains. And while I found her arrogant and insufferable at times, I appreciated the conviction with which she worked to protect and provide for her family. I appreciated how no job was too small for her to take, and how even when her upbringing predicated that she looked down on certain types of work, that Katya always saw needs and reason and quickly came to grips with reality.
What I loved the most though, was the shifting landscape of Paris fashion between the wars. I enjoyed the stark contrast between the highly structured Russian aristocratic culture, and the influence of Coco Chanel with looser shapes and the shedding of the corset. The descriptions of cuts, colours, and fabrics were truly sumptuous and honestly made me want to pull out my Gran’s photo albums. The fashion aspect worked too, with the romantic arc in the story, as Harry’s embedded status in the textiles world provided organic avenues through which his and Katya’s paths could frequently cross.
I adored the descriptions of atelier life, the process and the shows, and especially the life of a mannequin before these women were replaced with plastic objects. The behind the scenes glimpses into the cut-throat world of fashion houses bring a tread of reliability as both girls and fashion have proven in their steadfastness to remain nasty. Perhaps my only complaint about this setting is that the good Harry Morten is always there to save day, which means that Katya’s success is not truly self made, but rather indebted to his generosity. I can’t really complain though, as it is Harry’s role as the reluctant hero that makes the romantic elements of this story so appealing.
Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! It was, without question, one of my favourite reads of 2018. Full of fashion, hardship, and a coming of age The Secret Vow is a step back into worlds long forgotten and a truly enjoyable read.
Many thanks to NetGalley for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.