by Beverly Jenkins, historical (2008)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 978-0-06-116135-3
If you have read Vivid, you may recall Eli Grayson, the Colored Casanova of Cass County and the cousin of the hero in that story. Well, he's getting his own story in Jewel. Eli's now a reformed man who is trying to live responsibly. He has over the years established a newspaper called The Gazette. The newspaper has a pretty good circulation, but Eli is finding it hard to compete with the more established Black newspapers in other areas. Before long, he's out of funds. Oopsie.
However, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. GW Hicks, the owner of the biggest and most successful Black newspaper in the country, has expressed interest in channeling some funds into the business. Now all Eli has to do is to impress the straight-laced and very proper GW Hicks when the man comes down to Grayson Grove to discuss business with Eli. While GW Hicks is impressed with the company as well as the town, he also lets it slip that he believes that Eli is married. Knowing that GW Smith makes it a policy never to hire or work with bachelors because the man believes that bachelors are on the whole unreliable and untrustworthy, Eli scrambles to find a wife in short order.
Meet Jewel Crowley. She and Eli know each other since he and her brothers get along well. Unlike Eli, she has been responsible all her life. Having a widower father and six unmarried brothers can do that to a woman. While a part of her yearns to marry and start a family, another part of her believes that if the opportunity doesn't arrive, she can still lead a pretty good life as an independent woman who has her friends to count on and her interests to pursue. Like pretty much everyone else in the city, she wants Eli's paper to succeed. When Eli approaches her and asks her to pretend to be his wife and have dinner with him and GW Smith just for one hour or so, she says yes despite her many, many reservations about the plan.
Of course, the harebrained plan won't work. Sure enough, GW Smith stands up during the dinner and toasts the "husband and wife", causing all the other guests - and in a small town, that pretty much means all their neighbors and friends - to go, "Whoa!" Before those two can do any damage control, word has spread around town that not just are Jewel and Eli secretly married all this while, she's pregnant. Eli believes that the only way he can salvage Jewel's reputation is by marrying her for real.
I'm not sure what to make of Jewel. She's supposed to be a smart and intelligent woman who is also pragmatic, but from the moment Eli proposes, I'd swear that the young woman has lost her mind completely. From telling Eli that he's free to slut around after their marriage (only to predictably act like a jealous ninny when he seems to have taken her advice) to insisting that they divorce at the earliest opportunity, Jewel has morphed into one of those irritating "I don't care what it will do to my reputation that I supposedly treasure above all, I just want to be married for love or not at all!" heroines who do really silly things throughout the story. Jewel isn't completely unaware of the moments when she's being silly, which is good, but for the most part, she still has her share of dingbat moments here. I find it hard to believe that a woman as educated as Jewel supposedly is will assume that divorce is such an easy solution to her predicament, as if being divorced will make everything okay again.
Eli, on the other hand, is a likable fellow who is trying to prove that he's now a changed man. He's a nice fellow, a patient one as well for putting up Jewel when she says all these things about his personality and morals that are actually most disrespectful to him.
The most interesting aspect of this story, I find, is not the romance but the setting. Ms Jenkins provides plenty of interesting glimpses into the Black newspaper scene of the late 19th century as well as into social issues of the time such as emancipation, the female right to vote, and racial segregation. Some of these tidbits are dropped during conversations in ways that some readers may find resembling too much like a history lecture, but I personally find these informational tidbits interesting.
Thanks mostly to Jewel's attitude, the romance in Jewel is far less interesting than I would like it to be, since it's mostly a long wait to see when the woman will come to her senses and realize what the reader has known for so long. The story is well-written and I love the way the author brings Grayson Grove to life as this utopian safe haven town, but the romance could have been much better.
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