Overall Rating: 4/5
The year is 1939 and London’s society women are preparing for the glitz and glamor of the debutante season. Enter Valerie de Vere Cole, the Prime Minister’s niece. An insider by virtue of her lineage yet an outsider due to her dark upbringing, Valerie contends with her painful history while navigating the expectations and rules that dictate her new life. But beyond the parties, war is brewing on the continent, and the simmering tensions from the ensuing conflict seep their way into the anticipated Season. The Last Debutantes paints a stunning portrait of the self-imposed shackles that bind us, but in addition to the acute discourse around class and gender, the tumultuous political landscape and ticking clock expose the transience and fragility of the human experience.
This book is a slow-burner. There are no heart-stopping twists and turns, no fast-paced plot, but I thoroughly enjoyed the characters and their relationships. Valerie fits into the trope of “outsider in elite society”, which makes for a compelling and relatable protagonist whose growth becomes the primary focal point of the story. The side characters are also wonderful, and the female friendships and banter are really what stood out to me while reading. It felt as though I was attending elite society events with a group of close girl-friends. Moreover, the juxtaposition between the high society imagery and gritty political whispers added another layer to the story and forced a certain level of introspection both within the characters as well as myself as a reader. It was never overbearing, but it did help create tension throughout the narrative, something that the book would have struggled without.
There were some areas of opportunity that were missed. Valerie’s back-story felt a little repetitive, especially at the beginning of the novel, and that space could have been offered to other fascinating individuals whose own stories were frugally peppered throughout. The writing style might not be for everybody – the diction is quite formal and can take a while to get used to but it added to the ambience for me. Some scenes dragged out too long and the plot itself would have benefited from more action.
I would recommend The Last Debutantes to anyone with an interest in World War 2 fiction or romance. It is definitely a novel to be read for character dynamics and historical context, so if you prefer a more eventful storyline, this might not be for you. It did remind me of Bridgerton, albeit set at a later time and within a more serious setting, so if you enjoyed the vibe of the show, you will want to check this out. Thank you to the author, Netgalley, and William Morrow and Custom House for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. The Last Debutantes will be out on August 24th, 2021!