A winsome romantic mystery that takes place in the Gay Nineties or, also known as the Gilded Age of the Robber Barons.
Ephemeral Palaces, by Nancy Foshee, transports us to Chicago, 1893, when the city was hosting the World’s Columbian Exposition (aka the World’s Fair). The magnificence of the exposition was unparalleled in the event’s history with more than 27 million people attending its six month run.
The author unfolds her fast-paced story that deals with the submerged conflicts of the time that are just beginning to erupt to the surface: the emerging labor movement in counterpoint with the Robber Barons, the first Skyscraper emerging from the ashes of the Great Chicago Fire, and the swirling together of cultures from different nations and religions from the European mass migration. People from all walks of life were converging at first to build the exposition, then to work at it, and then to attend it. Different levels of the social strata converged at the exposition, along with the new public parks, sprawling roads and railways, and industrial works that were creating the now great city of Chicago. The women’s suffrage movement was beginning and starting to gain momentum, and the country was starting to finally heal from the American Civil War.
Readers will be swiftly caught up in this story of love at first sight, treachery, family secrets, sabotage, and technological innovations of the time, meshed with the conflicts between the classes, religions, and national origins. Foshee intertwines her cast of characters against the subtext of this backstory to make for a lively novel that historical, cozy mystery and romance fans will enjoy reading.
Shakespearean charades and surprises ensue when one of Chicago’s most prominent and most eligible young heiresses, Alexandra Schaffer, beguiles an up-and-coming young architect, Logan McConnell. They meet when she helps Logan pick up items from a display that he accidentally knocked over in the grandiose Marshal Fields department store. Meanwhile, Alexandra’s brother, Joey, has fallen head over heels in love with the Schaeffer family’s Swedish maid’s daughter Ingrid, but he is forbidden to pursue the relationship by the family patriarch.
Foshee adds elements of mystery and suspense, with a dash of ominous threats to this romantic story that takes place in this volatile time of American history. She deftly explores the dynamics of the Gilded Age and some of the era’s significant events that will impact the future of America and its capabilities to take on the challenges that the future will bring. Ephemeral Palaces is an engaging historical novel of the Gilded Age that was well-researched and well-written and a pleasure for this reviewer to have read.