“Never meet your heroes” is a sentiment that’s probably been around as long as celebrities have existed, and Lex Croucher’s Infamous is a perfect illustration of why.
Edith “Eddie” Miller is a Jo March-esque heroine, a young woman with literary aspirations in Regency England. She’s awed to the point of speechlessness when she meets gifted, charming, roguishly gorgeous poet Nash Nicholson and he invites her to become part of his inner circle of artists, writers and revolutionaries. It’s everything Eddie’s always wanted, and it’s a splendid distraction from how her deep, devoted friendship with Rose Li seems to be crumbling. They’ve been inseparable since they were little, but now they’re expected to grow up, participate in social events, accept suitors . . . get married. Rose, in fact, seems on the verge of an engagement to a man who’s perfectly nice, perfectly dull and (in Eddie’s opinion) perfectly dreadful. Eddie doesn’t know why something in her rebels at the thought of Rose building a life with someone else. She also doesn’t know why their “practice” kisses with each other seem to affect her so powerfully. All she knows is that life is pulling her in two different directions, and she’ll have to decide what matters more: patching up her increasingly strained relationship with Rose, or focusing on the glittering world that Nash offers.
As in their debut novel, Reputation, Croucher’s sharp, vivid and enchanting writing bursts off the page. But their most magnetic, intoxicating characters are always the ones you’re not sure you should trust. As things start to fall apart in the story, a sense of dread weighs down the more enjoyable aspects of the novel. Eddie’s a charming protagonist, but her single-minded determination can be frustrating. It’s a credit to Croucher that they made me care enough to yell at the pages, trying to get Eddie to see what was, inevitably, coming—but the fact that I did care made the story hard to read in parts. Nineteenth-century Eddie may have never heard of #MeToo, but 21st-century me certainly has.
Nevertheless, Infamous is a very engaging read and an empowering one, as well. Eddie’s hero may let her down, but in the end, the only way to move forward is simply to become her own hero.