Balancing twin roles as a young lady coming out in her first season and as an intrepid young man up against an evil sorceress isn’t easy, but Truthful has to manage it. Her father’s life and even the fate of England may depend upon her recovering the Newington Emerald!
Truthful Newington is a young lady of eighteen, and she is about to make her debut in Society. You might think she lives in the Regency England so often co-opted as a setting by romance novelists like Georgette Heyer, but in fact her England is different: it contains magic. When a famous family jewel (the Newington Emerald, don’t you know!) is stolen in the midst of a storm, Truthful sets out to recover the heirloom. To do so, she’ll have to pose as her own (male) cousin. Shenanigans ensue, mistaken identities abound, and all the adventure leads to the requisite happy ending.
Whether you’ve read romances for years or are new to the genre, you likely know that a happy (and romantic) ending is the norm. Garth Nix doesn’t take any chances in that regard with this tale, but he does include rather more adventures than the traditional romance novelist. The best fun, of course, is in playing with a cross-dressing female. There’s more freedom of choice, movement, and even thought for the heroine when she can go about life as a man. And Truthful, while not exactly meek or docile, worries about making a good impression and finding her feet. Nix surrounds her with interesting people, and in (and out of!) her alternate identity as Hénri de Chevalier adventure soon breaks out.
While I enjoyed the book as a frothy, fun read, my favorite bits tended to be about side characters like Lady Badgery (Truthful’s great aunt, who has hidden depths), Lord Otterbrook (a chance encounter), and the three Newington-Lacy cousins (young scoundrels all, in different ways). I appreciated the book at novella length, but I wished for a bit more time with Truthful’s merry band of friends and family. Though he describes Truthful’s stubbornness and the struggle keeping her double life alive very well, Nix’s writing is strongest in the action scenes, which mostly cluster toward the end of the book.
On the whole, Newt’s Emerald is an amusing adventure wrapped in a mystery. Its strengths are the setting, active writing, and secondary characters, though the central romance has its own delightful moments, too. It’s the perfect introduction to Regency romance for aficionados of young adult fiction who may be unfamiliar with the genre.
Recommended for: fans of Georgette Heyer, Patricia C. Wrede, and Mary Robinette Kowal (and Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series!), and anyone looking for a few hours of pure reading fun.