Historical fiction exists to answer the question, “What was life like when…?” Katherine Grant’s Sedition takes us to 1794, to a time when daughters lives were ruled by their fathers until they were ruled by their husbands—at least until the daughters in this book turn the tables on everyone.
Four fathers meet in their usual coffeehouse to discuss their next venture: seeing their daughters married to men with titles. The only direction for these nouveau riche tradesmen is up, and the daughters are their ticket. Unfortunately, most of the girls are not very attractive and have few accomplishments with which to snare a husband in the competitive market of Georgian England. Mr. Drigg has an idea. The five girls will learn to play the new pianoforte. They will be so dazzling that cash-poor, land-rich fathers will rope their sons into marriage with their girls before anyone knows what’s happened. The fathers spring into action. They buy a prized pianoforte and hire a piano teacher. Mr. Drigg, unfortunately, steps into a family feud and ends up angering the pianomaker so much that the pianomaker hatches his own scheme. Cantabile volunteers to find a piano teacher. He calls in an old acquaintance, M. Belladroit, and offers him extra money on top of his salary to seduce and ruin the five daughters.
Within the first few chapters, Sedition reads like the inverse of a romance novel (though much better written). You feel bad for the girls, because none of this is their fault. You might cheer when Alathea finds love and a musical partnership with Annie, Cantabile’s daughter. But, you’ll cheer harder when Alathea learns about all the plots in motion around her and the other prospective brides and puts her own plan into play.
This is not an easy book to read. I should warn people now. There’s a lot of sex in this book and some of it will make readers of any tolerance uncomfortable. There are times when Grant channels Jonathan Swift in describing sweat and harelips and pocks and hair and blemishes. There is no romance in Sedition (except between Alathea and Annie). To me, this lack of romance made the book more real for me. I felt like I was reading about real, imperfect people.
The ending of Sedition is brilliant and heartbreaking. I don’t want to say too much, for fear of ruining it, though. Everything in Sedition leads up to a planned concert in December of 1794, after nearly a year of piano lessons and practice. Everyone’s plans will come to fruition (or fail to do so) at the concert. The choreography of the climax is stunning.