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Once upon a time, when you signed yourself up to either watch or read a period drama, you knew that you were in for a ride into the Land That Feminism Forgot. The genre itself made no pretence of equality; well, you couldn't really if you allow the term 'Bodice Ripper' to go unchallenged.

The recurring tropes of period dramas have centred on two clear gender definitions: Women are maidens, mothers or crones; men are either "good husband material" or bounding cads. Both genders became such cartoon cutout versions of humanity, they may as well have hailed from Mars.

Characterisation wasn't elegant, it wasn't politically correct, but it was conveniently written off as being "authentic" and "contemporary", allowing modern audiences not to have to worry too deeply about all the non-consensual sex they had found slightly arousing.

Our window into the past has changed radically in more recent times, with dramas like Outlander, Game of Thrones, and books like The Revelations of Carey Ravine. In these stories, we are presented with a much richer set of characters, an ebb and flow of power across ages and genders. As consumers, we are asked to decide whether we are viewing these characters as products of the past, or as one of us. In return, we demand of writers that they pick a perspective - a lens - and we ask that they are authentic.   

Why does it matter? Well, imagine your best friend calls you in floods of tears because it turns out her hot blind date has actually been sending her photos of Ryan Gosling. Your first question is going to be "How the hell did you not realise those photos were of Ryan Gosling?!". Your second question is going to be "How much wine do I need to bring over to help you get over this disappointment". The simple truth is any emotional investment is based on expectation and credibility.

So it was with all these things in mind that I picked up my copy of The Revelations of Carey Ravine, and began what, I was promised, would be a journey into the buccaneering society of Georgian London.

I won't tell you anything about the plot - well actually I can't without giving the game away - except that this is a story of a middle-class Georgian wife, who has a colourful past (don’t we all, love) and a fierce intellect. 

Carey believes “in a just partition of the world, even if that seems an impossible ideal” and fears “a situation where the foundation of my happiness is bound up in another”. She works at the margins of an industry that tolerates her as a curiosity, and she loves the trappings that her wages afford her. 

Despite the fact that I make her sound like a generic online dating profile, Carey is, in fact, a rich and evocative protagonist. Please note, I can neither confirm, nor deny, whether she enjoys taking long walks on the beach at sunset.

The real strength of this book, is as a character study. This is a period world, full of modern nuance, centred on a kairotic woman.

Debra Daley wrote Carey Ravine to reflect her “modern beliefs in feminism”, and it shows. Carey lives in a world that is structurally opposed to her equality, but then, so do we. 

Carey faces some very different challenges (like the fact that she is effectively subsumed into her husband by marriage), but she also faces some very familiar ones (like the fight to receive equal pay for her work). She is a feminist in both the Georgian and the modern senses.

But telling a story from the female gaze is not enough to make this a feminist novel. There’s more required, (precisely what depends on which definition you choose) but broadly speaking, the story should be one that “illuminates some aspect of the female condition and/or offers some kind of imperative for change and/or makes a bold or unapologetic political statement in the best interests of women.” 

And which is it, in the case of this book? The most obvious political statement is that Carey finds ways to subvert the patriarchal bonds of Georgian Britain by annotating (rather than just transcribing) scientific texts. She creates an independent living out of nothing but raw talent, creating a virtue from her unique voice in a male dominated industry. 

That is not an overt, chest beating, act of feminism, but it is as deserving of that title as the suffrage pamphlets written by Millicent Fawcett, or the Italian MEP who raised her daughter on the daily grind of democracy. The way that Carey lives is a statement of equality. The fact that it is done quietly, does not make it less worthy.

The real revelation of Carey Ravine is the way in which it weaves together the threads of her life and ours, binding us with shared concerns, and experiences. The nuances of this story, show us in a million subtle ways how “women always have to try harder to be heard and seen for the truth of who they are”. That is this book's deeper political statement.

If you are looking for a story that moves in ways never before seen in the history of period drama, this book will not deliver. If you are looking for a sense of connection with female characters who are every bit as vibrant, flawed, determined, weak, constrained and, well, human as their modern day counterparts, I can tell you, this book is well worth your time.

I was sent a copy of this book free to review by Hachette NZ. The opinions expressed are my own, in all their glory. I shouldn't have to tell you that, clearly nobody would actually pay me to express views like this. I would like to thank Debra Daley for so generously answering my questions about her beloved heroine. If you want to read her thoughts in full, you can find them here.

The Revelations of Carey Ravine is on sale now, priced at $34.99.

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