In this rich debut, Harwood questions whether two people following divergent paths can reconcile their beliefs, convictions, and societal obstructions to forge a life together. This concern haunts Lilia Brooke, who rejects her conservative upbringing to become a social progressive and leading advocate for the women’s vote in 1906 London. Paul Harris, her childhood friend, is an Anglican priest intent on becoming the youngest dean of a prominent cathedral. Reacquainted as adults, the two quickly develop romantic feelings for each other, but also realize the seemingly impossible task they would face in reconciling their differing worldviews and passions. When Lilia joins the militant wing of the suffragette movement, she puts her reputation and life at risk. Simultaneously, Paul’s ambitions and feelings for Lilia threaten to overwhelm his inner faith. As both careen toward self-destruction, they come together for a shared reckoning. Grounded in a wealth of research into the suffrage movement, the book will please readers who enjoy detailed historical recreations. With insight and sensitivity, Harwood explores century-old social mores and challenges that still echo loudly today. (Jan.)
"A graceful and empathetic portrayal of a suffragette in 1907 England."
"Anyone pining for a passionate yet principled historical romance will fall hard for this impossibly readable story. It’s the perfect thing for a long weekend. But months later, readers will still recall the harrowing descriptions of imprisoned, abused women. Lilia’s pointed, challenging questions will linger even longer."
"Harwood brings us vividly and convincingly into the past, as we see the whirlwind of social changes in early twentieth century England through the lives of two passionate and authentic characters."
"The perspective is refreshing in that the church is not the villain, nor are all the suffragettes cardboard cutouts. One interesting aspect is the novel’s exploration of the contrast in ideologies between the more conservative, peaceful suffrage groups and the militant, property-destroying Women’s Social and Political Union. This parallels the spectrum in today’s protest-heavy atmosphere, lending the novel contemporary social relevance in addition to its romantic plotline."
"Impossible Saints tells the passionate story of the suffragist movement in early twentieth century London, and the sacrifices made to secure what so many women take for granted today—the right to vote. Lilia Brooke won’t succumb to a society bent on curtailing her rights, or a man she loves who wishes to keep her safely at home, even if it means denying her heart. Consuming, well-paced, and important, this fascinating novel fills in the blanks of a past so rarely given air time in today’s myopic world."
"Clarissa Harwood’s historical novel Impossible Saints vividly portrays the difficulties—familial and societal, physical and emotional—faced a century ago by suffragettes in Great Britain who struggled to gain equal rights for women. It’s a story beautifully told, both absorbing and illuminating."
"This frustrating but tender romance, teetering between hope and despair, doubtless represents many relationships challenged by change. The story is best for readers interested in women’s rights and the British suffrage movement."
"Clarissa Harwood illuminates her characters’ strengths and foibles with keen insight and understanding. Caught in the push-and-pull between time-honored traditions and fresh new sensibilities, they grapple with the compelling questions of what is lost and what is gained by following either path. She captures the spark of wonder that occurs when two people with very different views of the world discover they are more alike than they’d imagined. A thoughtful and intriguing picture of the suffragettes and the society they wished to change."
"Impossible Saints is the meeting of ferocity and tenderness, a story with brave questions for both heart and head. It unfolds a hundred years in the past, but its roots are unmistakably—aptly—of the moment."
"A simply riveting read from cover to cover, Impossible Saints is an original and consistently entertaining, narrative driven novel by a writer with a genuine flair for both originality and deftly crafted characters."
"Impossible Saints is a tale about passion, putting your life on the line for what you believe in, and sometimes being blindsided by the urge to compromise. This book is so readable the pages practically turn themselves. Make yourself a cup of tea and cancel all your appointments—once you start reading this novel you won't want to stop"
The perspective is refreshing in that the church is not the villain, nor are all the suffragettes cardboard cutouts. One interesting aspect is the novel’s exploration of the contrast in ideologies between the more conservative, peaceful suffrage groups and the militant, property-destroying Women’s Social and Political Union. This parallels the spectrum in today’s protest-heavy atmosphere, lending the novel contemporary social relevance in addition to its romantic plotline.
This first novel is an engrossing historical romance set in 1907 England. Young and beautiful Lilia Brooke, a former village schoolmistress, goes to London, where her passion as a suffragette is at cross-purposes with her growing attraction to Anglican priest Paul Harris. Lilia is a New Woman: fiercely independent, intellectual, sexually open, and ardent about women's rights. She rises quickly in the leadership of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). Paul is far more reserved and conservative; he wants to become a dean in the church but his ambitions are increasingly at odds with his attraction to Lilia. The narrative alternates between Lilia and Paul's viewpoints as their evolving love forces them to dig deeper into the compromises they are willing to make. Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the British suffragette movement, makes an appearance, and the demonstrations, hunger strikes, and forced feedings are vividly described. By 1928, all British women over 21 could vote; readers will root for Lilia and Paul's romance to have a similarly happy ending. VERDICT For lovers of romantic historical fiction from the Brontës to Tracy Chevalier (Girl with a Pearl Earring).—Elizabeth Safford, Boxford Town Lib., MA