March 12, 2024

The Phoenix Bride

By Natasha Siegel
Review by
Natasha Siegel’s beautifully written The Phoenix Bride pushes readers to reconsider what happily ever after looks like.
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The Phoenix Bride, Natasha Siegel’s stunning sophomore novel, is a breathtakingly beautiful novel about forbidden love in 17th-century London.

The year is 1666, one year after the bubonic plague wreaked havoc on London. Young widow Cecilia Thorowgood lost her husband, who was a childhood friend and a love match, to the disease. Without financial means of her own, Cecilia finds herself trapped in her sister’s home, deep in the throes of a paralyzing depression and hounded by a slew of doctors who try to cure it with scalpels and leeches. When Cecilia shows no signs of improvement, her sister decides to take the risk of hiring a foreign doctor. David Mendes is not only Portuguese, but also Jewish. He and his father recently immigrated to England, where they can publicly practice their faith. Their new home is a marked improvement from Portugal, but antisemitism still runs rampant. However, David and Cecilia form a friendship despite the social barriers between them, born out of their grief over the loss of loved ones. Cecilia deeply mourns her husband, and David has yet to move on from the death of Manuel, a friend whom he loved secretly for years. As the two begin to heal, they realize the love they have for each other is beyond anything they could have imagined. But is it enough to help them overcome seemingly insurmountable societal odds?

This book will break you open with its beautiful writing, and readers will find themselves wringing their hands, wondering how on earth David and Cecilia could ever be together. Siegel does not soften history to make it easier for her characters to find love, a popular tactic in other queer historical romances. Instead, she finds subtle ways for her characters to bend the rules while not outright disregarding them, allowing them to find their own happily ever after even though traditional markers like marriage remain out of reach. David and Cecilia’s victory feels realistic and hard won, pushing readers to reconsider what an HEA looks like. And while Seigel handles many heavy subjects in The Phoenix Bride such as grief, trauma, antisemitism and biphobia, the romance doesn’t feel weighed down by these issues. Cecilia is a darkly funny heroine and while David is a more serious foil for her, they have a charming ease with each other that creates lighter moments to balance the weightier aspects of the story.

The Phoenix Bride is a gorgeous romance about healing from trauma, making peace with grief and finding love where it doesn’t seem possible. This glorious follow-up to her debut, Solomon’s Crown, firmly establishes Seigel as a writer to watch.

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The Phoenix Bride

The Phoenix Bride

By Natasha Siegel
ISBN 9780593597873

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