Pride, Pain, and Petticoats by Abigail Trusity is a transfeminine transformation fantasy romance, which I give my fullest-throated recommendation simply because it gave me so much joy. Is it a perfect book? Maybe not, but I don’t care. I had a great time reading it, and if you’re like me, hungering for transfem rep in books, especially fantasy romance, stop reading this review and pick it up.
The basic plot is simple: soldier turned royal guard gets magically transformed into a woman protecting his Prince, whom he may or may not have been in love with. She’s awarded a title and a bit of land as a reward for service and sent to an etiquette academy to learn how to better fulfill her role as a woman in her society, as she’s unable to fulfill her duties after a long convalescence following the incident.
I use the pronouns above as the author does. There’s no erasure of the former identity; rather, a slow and careful adaptation to the new reality as Tarence becomes Taryn and learns her new body and identity and comes to accept parts of her that were there all along, without entirely losing everything she was before.
Taryn’s struggle to overcome her guilt and shame is poignantly described as she has to learn everything about being a woman in this 17th century-esque society from scratch, with the help of her fellow students in the academy. It’s delightful to see how accepting they are, how helpful, and of course, this being a romance, how sparks fly between them as they teach her how to dress, wear makeup, shop, and do everything a lady in their society is expected to do. Some might say the book meanders in the lengthy scenes of classrooms and dining halls and markets, but honestly, I loved hanging out with these women as they soldiered through the gauntlet of training to be “proper women” in a society that wants to put them in cages, while giggling and plotting together in their private moments about how fucked the whole system is.
The grotesque patriarchal norms of their society are exposed as Taryn realizes everything she did as a man, everything she missed, everything she didn’t understand. But there’s a real sense of empowerment as well; with the support of her found family, she learns to accept herself, and by the end of the book, she grows into the woman she is, not the woman she’s expected to be.
The book contains some really insightful moments about the nature of gender and transition, subtle reflections on perception and reality, that had me in tears at times, laughing at others, and sometimes both.
And I can’t close out a review of a romance without discussing the steamy scenes. There are several, one a self-care scene when she explores her body for the first time in the bath, and another toward the end. The book shines in these moments, as romance books often do. The personal, emotional, and romantic journey of the book culminates beautifully in the final scene, which had me cheering for both parties as they learn each other’s pleasure and boundaries, with the most deliciously explicit consent.
And maybe this is a bit of a spoiler, but since you’ve read this far and I really want you to read this book, if you like dominant but sensitive butch lesbian love interests, yeah. Pick this one up. 😉