This review of Pride, Pain, and Petticoats Volume 2 contains some spoilers for the first book, so proceed accordingly. But don’t let that dissuade you if you like romance, because the HEA is guaranteed anyway, right?
The first book won my heart with its up-close portrayal of the transformation of Tarence to Taryn and the emotional fallout–and joy–that followed in its wake as she found a group of sisters in etiquette school and learned to understand and love herself, and other women, as she never had before. Read my full review here.
Like the first book, volume 2 ventures deep into the quicksand marshes of the trans emotional landscape, where moments of joy and euphoria can be sucked away in an instant, but Trusity always gives us sturdy vines of hope and romance to pull ourselves up by.
I want to start by saying that the Preface and the Afterword are solid gold, nearly as gripping as the book itself, so if you want to read about Abby’s life, inspirations, and upcoming projects, don’t skip those!
The book begins, oddly enough, with an extensive discussion of a planned infrastructure project to improve the city’s functioning during the extended rainy season. It includes discussion of how the lumber for the project would be sourced, how it would affect the fisheries, improve the markets, and any number of minute details you might not expect at the beginning of a romance. But this is not your usual romance—it lavishes the reader with historical details like this, and the pieces of the romance soon fall into place.
Taryn’s brother is coming to visit, and in classic romance fashion, there are identity shenanigans afoot: he doesn’t know his once-brother is now a sister. She’s decided to keep him in ignorance, pretending to be her own fiancée, until she can decide how best to break the news of her transformation, all the while hiding the fact that she’s madly in love with Therese, a childhood family acquaintance.
Trusity’s book reads like a historical at times, with extended conversations in parlors, kitchens, hallways, and gardens of the estate. Moments of sweetness with Therese are intermixed with intrigue with her brother and his mysterious fiancée, and the women in the etiquette school she still attends are often involved. There’s a lot going on, but much of it involves talking while eating, dressing, bathing, and other daily events of a family visit to an estate already bustling with activity.
The great care the author takes with (fictional) historical details will be engrossing to the right reader; we learn of the effect of weather and seasons on trade, and how Taryn grows into her role as Countess Moxley, the administrator of her newly granted terrain. I was especially fascinated by how the market was transformed into a warehouse during the rainy season, still functioning in a limited capacity. Taryn takes her brother’s fiancée shopping there, and I enjoyed those scenes quite a bit.
I also enjoyed the fact that, rather than just being a figurehead, she is an actual leader, an active participant in the welfare of the citizens she represents. I couldn’t help being reminded of the numerous trans legislators currently active in our country focused on mundane issues like making sure roads are paved and getting the basic work of civilization done. I have no way of knowing if this was the author’s intent, but it was my experience reading the book, so I’m sharing it.
This is a complex book. We have the romance arc between Taryn and Therese, who are forced to hide their relationship at the cost of some friction between them. We have some background political drama that remains on the periphery, a gathering storm that seems likely to break hard in the third book. We have the family arc of Taryn having to perpetuate the ruse with her brother and his mysterious fiancée and try to find a way to tell him the truth. And the family arc leads to a deeper personal arc for Taryn, which for me is the heart of the book: her discovery of who she is at her core, who she’s always been, and how she handles that truth.
One more pause. Why did Taryn feel like crying?
“I have long felt this way…And yet, until all of this happened, I knew not what this feeling was.”
I cried multiple times reading this book. In the first volume, Taryn took to being a woman fairly well, though she did have some moments of difficulty. I feel like there was more euphoria than pain in the first volume, though to be sure there were some tears and breakdowns. In the second volume, she digs deeper into her history, how she was treated by her family, by her brother, how she engaged with gender all her life. It’s one of the more detailed analyses I’ve read in a book of the trans experience, and it flows naturally because of how the book is set up.
Her brother is portrayed as a complete and utter asshole from the moment he sets foot on the page. You just want to smack him, then punch him, then kick him in the nuts, then smack him again. He’s super homophobic/transphobic, referring to his once-brother as a sissy, a coward, and all manner of similar slurs, right to her face (though he thinks she’s her own fiancée due to the aforementioned ruse). He half-apologizes, but What. A. Dick. And then when you learn that he’s been doing that to her all her life, that EVERYONE has? What that pushed her to, how close she came to ending it all? It’s a lot.
Trusity knows it’s a lot, which is why she gives us so many delightful moments as well. The sisterhood of the etiquette school buoys Taryn’s spirits. These women take care of each other, despite their occasional rivalries. When Taryn’s down, they have her back. And Therese…I adore her. We learn a lot about her backstory, what her life was like growing up, how she didn’t fit in, and why she and Taryn got along so well, even when Taryn thought she was a boy. And while she and Taryn are mostly apart during her brother’s visit, Therese pays a visit to the tanner to purchase some soft leather to make a special toy for Taryn, once they finally have some alone time together.
Amazingly, the author managed to make me hate Taryn’s brother considerably less by the end of the book in a scene that was poignant and rewarding. And of course, we get the further reward of Chekov’s strap-on and the delightfully written breaking of furniture in a well-earned and scorchingly hot sex scene that was more than worth the wait. This is, after all, a romance, and I wouldn’t be writing this review if the author had left us hanging.
Trusity has written a book with the qualities of historical romance, epic fantasy, and literary introspection, one that made me laugh, cry, and squeal with delight. I urge you to buy it, read it, add it to your TBR, shout about it—all the things you do when you hear about a book of this caliber.
Abby, thank you for writing this, and I look forward to the next volume, whenever that may be.
Abigail Trusity will be joining my transfeminine SFF author roundtable author interview blog post at the end of October, so keep your eyes peeled! It’s going to be a knockout!