Musings Over The Magnolia Palace

The rich think they’re protected, that they have magical powers, when in fact they’re only mortals, like the rest of us.

The Magnolia Palace Fiona Davis

My Rating

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

In Summary of The Magnolia Palace

“Eight months since losing her mother in the Spanish flu outbreak of 1919, twenty-one-year-old Lillian Carter’s life has completely fallen apart. For the past six years, under the moniker Angelica, Lillian was one of the most sought-after artists’ models in New York City, with statues based on her figure gracing landmarks from the Plaza Hotel to the Brooklyn Bridge. But with her mother gone, a grieving Lillian is rudderless and desperate—the work has dried up and a looming scandal has left her entirely without a safe haven. So when she stumbles upon an employment opportunity at the Frick mansion—a building that, ironically, bears her own visage—Lillian jumps at the chance. But the longer she works as a private secretary to the imperious and demanding Helen Frick, the daughter and heiress of industrialist and art patron Henry Clay Frick, the more deeply her life gets intertwined with that of the family—pulling her into a tangled web of romantic trysts, stolen jewels, and family drama that runs so deep, the stakes just may be life or death.

Nearly fifty years later, mod English model Veronica Weber has her own chance to make her career—and with it, earn the money she needs to support her family back home—within the walls of the former Frick residence, now converted into one of New York City’s most impressive museums. But when she—along with a charming intern/budding art curator named Joshua—is dismissed from the Vogue shoot taking place at the Frick Collection, she chances upon a series of hidden messages in the museum: messages that will lead her and Joshua on a hunt that could not only solve Veronica’s financial woes, but could finally reveal the truth behind a decades-old murder in the infamous Frick family. ” –Goodreads Synopsis

READ IF YOU LIKE: Multiple POVs, historical fiction, the Gilded Age, slow mysteries, art, atmospheric and descriptive writing

PositivesNegatives
Feminist themes and unique discussions of women in the world of art and literature Pacing – especially in the first half – is long and inconsistent
The setting; the Gilded Age is a time period that often goes overlooked in comparison to WWI and WWII erasSome characters unlikeable / hard to make connections with
Alternating between two historical settings creates an interesting contrastStrange character relationships that seem rushed / underdeveloped

The Review

The Magnolia Palace is a historical fiction novel that some will love, but it missed the mark a little for me.

The lofty, beautiful description is worthy of attention and the feminist themes are impressive. Davis clearly put a lot of time into researching the role of women in the art world, as we see with the discussions of what being a muse entails. While both Lillian and Veronica are models, the generational gap is apparent in how one model is valued for her beauty (in the ’60s) much more than the other (Gilded Age); Lillian must hide her career as a muse to avoid being socially outcasted for supposedly crude, unwomanly behavior. Before this novel, I had never considered the societal viewpoints on muses, which really speaks to the historical differences between now and then.

Despite these positives, The Magnolia Palace dragged for me. There is a mystery element present, but it takes awhile to get introduced. While I understand that historical fiction typically requires an immense amount of setting and context building, I was eager to jump into the mystery sooner. Additionally, there is such an emphasis on the mystery that romantic relationship development is weakened; there is a romantic relationship that seems to suddenly appear.

Overall, the mystery is well-developed and worth the time to unwind if you are a historical fiction lover!

The Magnolia Palace Book Information

  • Published: 2022
  • Publisher: Dutton
  • ISBN: ‎ 978-0593184011
  • Format: Hardback (purchased through Book of the Month)
  • Length: 352 pages

Learn About & Support the Author – Fiona Davis

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