From the desk of Katie Patchell:
I have a question for you, fellow bibliophiles: Have you read P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves series? Written between 1915 and 1974, this series of short stories and novels is a sometimes biting (yet always fun) satire of Britain’s posh upper class. Starring wealthy and hapless Bertie Wooster and his much-put-upon butler, Jeeves, these stories dazzle with Wodehouse’s charming turn of phrase and list of characters with bizarre surnames. There’s a brilliant adaptation as well, starring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry, that further brings to life these wonderful characters and their times. Brianne Moore’s 2021 release, A Bright Young Thing, echoes the glamour and glitz of the aristocratic set that Wodehouse immortalized. In this novel, readers meet a heroine who lives up to the title’s moniker–but who, like all of us, is so much more than merely a label or stereotype.
England, 1931: Astra Davies is blessed, according to her set, in the only places it matters: tireless feet for dancing, an endless stream of money, and a dazzlingly quick wit. Everything is perfect…until the moment it’s not. When her beloved parents die in a car accident and she discovers that her father left behind a string of debts, Astra must leave her family’s home and live with her unkind aunt.
Immediately, Astra begins her quest to reclaim her family home from its almost-certain future sale, all without letting her dear friends or society at large in on the secret of her financial downfall. Just as she begins to pay back the debts, problems crop up on all sides! Her aunt pressures her to marry a wealthy man; a decidedly not-wealthy but oh-so-charming man appears on the scene; her childhood nemesis, Millicent, tries to ruin Astra’s chances with said man…and that’s not all. Not by a long shot.
Others might give up, but not Astra. Her goal is to carve out a future that is uniquely hers—not one her aunt or even her fellow “bright young things” expect. With her father’s journal giving clues to secrets that both he and her mother held for decades, Astra begins a new project: the search for answers. For whatever was in her parents’ past was in hers, and possibly—quite possibly—those secrets hold the key to Astra’s own bright future.
Reading A Bright Young Thing feels like taking a whirlwind tour through the world of Jeeves and Wooster (albeit with a narrator who looks on society’s foibles with more gentleness). If you like 1930s-era historical fiction, then this is the book for you! So often I read books from this time period that talk about the darker aspects of the world: the tension leading up to the World Wars, America’s Great Depression, and more. I appreciated the different focus here. Even with mysteries to solve and the early death of Astra’s parents, the overall reading experience was the equivalent to sitting in front of a warm fireplace sipping a glass of my favorite drink (kombucha anyone?).
While serious issues were dealt with in A Bright Young Thing’s pages, Astra’s unflagging optimism and determination carried her—and the reader—through to this novel’s satisfying conclusion. The romance was subtle, with Moore’s focus being on Astra’s character development rather than on any grand romantic gestures. I found this fit both the novel’s tone and Astra’s journey. Astra met every challenge with her typical verve and confidence. Additionally, the supporting cast was sweet, and the romantic lead, delightful.
The positives of A Bright Young Thing lent this novel charm and humor. Unfortunately, I have two quibbles that detracted from my otherwise lovely read. Millicent (a villain’s name if I’ve ever heard one) was very dramatically, oh-so-obviously evil. She was a two-dimensional character with little reason for the extreme level she went to in order to destroy Astra’s life. From attempting to steal Astra’s beau to trying to fire Astra’s maid, there seemed to be no end to Millicent’s plots. I also had a problem keeping track of all the characters. The amount of interconnectedness between people in the same closely-knit class was believable, but there were too many complex names and long paragraphs detailing their histories that made it hard for me to follow every scene. These two aspects detracted from my otherwise full enjoyment of this novel.
Light and bubbly as a glass of champagne, A Bright Young Thing is also an enchanting story of one woman’s bid for freedom. Along the way, family secrets are uncovered, and long-held friendships are tested. With a Wooster-approved cheer of “Right ho, Jeeves!” I recommend this novel for your next historical fiction selection of the year.
4 out of 5 Stars
- A Bright Young Thing: A Novel, by Brianne Moore
- Alcove Press (September 7, 2021)
- Hardcover, eBook, & audiobook (320) pages
- ISBN: 978-1643855332
- Genre: Historical Fiction
We received a review copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Austenprose is an Amazon affilitate. Cover image courtesy of Alcove Press © 2021; text Katie Patchell © 2021, austenprose.com.