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Review: Lady of the Butterflies, Fiona Mountain

The late seventeenth and early eighteenth century are considered the beginning of the Age of Enlightenment in the western world, but it was certainly not so for women.  Because Eleanor Goodricke is taught science from a young age and loves the natural world, she’s looked down on by her neighbors and even ostracized at times.  Her life is full of austerity due to her father’s Puritan roots and her love of science replaces any girlish indulgences.  When her father dies, she’s alone in the world with Tickenham Court and a guardian who views her as strange, just like the rest of the townspeople do.  When Eleanor meets Edmund Ashfield, she falls immediately in love, but she’s destined for larger passion with his best friend Richard Glanville.  She also furthers the scientific study of butterflies and becomes a female entomologist no matter how strange others consider her.

If there was any doubt that I have revived my interest in historical fiction, this book casts it all aside.  It took me five days to read but it was worth each and every one of those days.  This was a fascinating book and I was completely drawn into Eleanor’s life and loves, both of men and of butterflies.  I thought about it when I wasn’t reading it and I longed to get back to it in order to find out what was happening.  Even though some of the story is immediately apparent just from reading Eleanor’s name on the back cover, I didn’t feel spoiled at all and instead wondered what would happen and how it would happen.

As with much of the historical fiction I’ve been reading lately, I have read few books set in this time period and I was fascinated by the changing cultures of the times.  The Puritans’ reign has waned, but Eleanor still endures a stark childhood and bears the prejudices of the daughter of a man who fought for Oliver Cromwell.  This, despite the fact that she is so often prejudiced against herself, reveals the fragility of human prejudice and the ultimately unsubstantial reasons we have for setting ourselves against others.  It’s that prejudice which proves her undoing in this novel and perhaps in life, even when she discovers some of her long-held beliefs are blatantly untrue and harmful.

Reading this book is a bit like riding a roller coaster.  I wanted, just for a minute, for Eleanor’s life to be peaceful and calm, for her to spend time with her butterflies and her eventual children and just be.  Of course, that must have happened in her actual life, but the book skips to the most eventful periods in order to keep the pace up throughout nearly six hundred pages.  It certainly succeds, because despite the time I took to read this book, I was never once bored and never even thought that I wished it was going faster.  Trust me, that never happens; usually I become impatient with books after two days!

Mountain freely admits that she’s played a little bit with the facts, but it’s hard to blame her; Eleanor Glanville did have a thrilling life in reality and she deserves more credit for her scientific study in particular.  Mountain has really crafted a wonderful book here, with a gorgeous setting (I could picture the marshes and why Eleanor loved them) and a heroine who is simultaneously a representation of her time and a woman that is perfectly recognizable.  Lady of the Butterflies is a fantastic historical fiction read and one that comes highly recommended by me.

I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for free through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

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