Volume Five of P.D. Quaver’s The Ordeals of Elly Robin series sets teenage piano protégé, Elly Robin, in 1915 Chicago, a city of haves and have nots.
Elly is a quirky, engaging character, a taciturn piano protégé and mechanical whiz-kid who struggles in social contexts but, when asked directly, can give clear and cogent explanations about the growing conflict in Europe. Orphaned at a young age, she has survived multiple adventures and, at 15, travels to Chicago to take piano maestro Bellini up on an offer of lessons he made when he heard her play in a New Orleans bordello. Once reminded of her talent, he sets her up in the household of a local tycoon whose wife is a patron of the arts.
Elly learns etiquette and refines her piano playing, but she’s an adventurer at heart, soon caught up with a group of local anarchists and in a ghostly mystery and a romance with a young man whose privileged life hasn’t prepared him for Elly’s unusual circle of friends and complicated past.
Quaver successfully brings early 20th century America to life and deftly handles a large cast of characters, dialects, and historical events. While some of Elly’s adventures stretch credulity, historical fiction fans will enjoy the range of real-life characters she encounters, including Ida B. Wells, Jack London, and Emma Goldman. Humorous dialogue is a strength.
The novel reads like an adventure story, but the light tone Quaver employs sometimes jars with the seriousness of his subject matter. Elly encounters attempted murder, sexual assault, racism, and workplace exploitation – some in a single day – and yet moves on to her next adventure with little introspection or emotion. Additionally, readers new to the series may struggle to understand Elly’s character and find the pace meandering, compromised by unlikely encounters with characters from her past.
Despite such issues, Elly is a compelling protagonist, and readers will find the historical aspects of the story interesting.
Also available as an ebook.