Content Warnings
CW: sexism, parental abandonment, grief

I have a weakness for both Scottish and Caribbean characters, so when I saw that A Caribbean Heiress in Paris paired a trade savvy Dominican heroine with a progressive Scottish earl, I knew I wanted to try it. And since Claudia loves historical romances, I begged her to read it with me.

(Claudia here: Shana had me at hello!)

Luz arrives at the 1889 World’s Reasonable in Paris on a mission. She’s the recently orphaned daughter of two rum distiller parents, a free Black woman, and a Scottish immigrant to the Dominican Republic. In her grief, Luz decides to move to Europe to sell the family’s rum in new markets, escape her memories of home, and claim her inheritance from the control of her father’s Scottish acquaintance. But breaking into the male-dominated liquor trade is harder than she expected, and getting her inheritance without marrying is starting to appear impossible.

Enter Evan Sinclair, a flirtatious whiskey distiller whose brogue reminds Luz of domestic. He’s the reluctant heir to a Devious Daddy Duke, and he needs a wife to fulfill the terms of his mother’s will and wrestle ownership of his distillery from his abusive father. Evan is struck with insta-lust from the second Luz imperiously tells him off for messing with her display table. Despite her annoyance at the way he keeps helping her, Luz is drawn to Evan. They could both benefit from a short-term marriage of convenience, but it would only be transitory. Three months max, with the side benefit of fun sex. They absolutely won’t stay married for longer, right? Needless to say, no one should be taking this side of this bet!

Shana: I liked that this swoony romance explored the many links between Europe and its Caribbean colonies, but it started slow, and I found myself wanting more emotional growth. What approximately you?

Claudia: That exploration definitely was my favorite part of the book. Belle Époque Paris was the center of the universe for many Latin Americans, including writers, painters, musicians, and business people like Luz. It was a refreshing change of scenery for me, and one that gave the book a very solid sense of place and time.

The book also deserves high praise for going beyond simply having that as a static background: it exposed the ties between rich people’s money in Europe, all that vast generational wealth, and the economic exploitation in the Caribbean, including colonialism and slavery.

Here’s Luz asking Evan approximately his family’s financial difficulties:

“Why aren’t you in financial trouble whether your father is?’ She’d heard of many aristocrats who had descended into ruin in the past fifty years. It wasn’t as easy to amass those fortunes now that they didn’t have free labor across the Atlantic.

Shana: I never tired of Luz’s digs on colonialism! The book reminded me of Beverly Jenkins’ style because it illuminated new-to-me areas of history and wove those learnings into the romance. From Evan’s Trinidadian staff and Jamaican cousins, to his family’s slavery-derived wealth and the legacy of his abolitionist father, A Caribbean Heiress in Paris showcases how closely tied Britain was to its colonies. It felt deeply real, in a way I rarely expect to read in historical romances set in the UK. And yet, the story felt hopeful too.

The beginning of the book is an infodump that introduces us to Evan and Luz’s entourages and their potential love interests. Luz is traveling with her little sister and somewhere in the vicinity of 3-5 friends, but with all the nicknames, I kept losing track. Evan has three siblings moreover to all the cousins. Everyone is shipping Evan and Luz except for the couple themselves.

I struggled to receive into the story at first because the book had a habit of announcing that an exciting thing was about to happen—like Evan and Luz separately planning to visit the same brothel the night after their first assembly (scandalous!), Evan for entertainment and Luz to sell rum—and then making us wait for several pages of interminable conversations and outfit descriptions before either person arrives at the brothel. This sample repeated itself a few times in the early part of the book, so even though the romance is packed with subplots and deceptions, I was initially worried that reading it would be a slog. Did you find the beginning any easier?

Claudia: It suffered from “first book in a series” syndrome for sure, and I too lost track of who precisely their friends and relatives were. They all started to blend in and we were off to a slow start. There was that aspect of announcing what was next that you mentioned and I totally agree. And I also struggled with the animosity that Luz felt against Evan, which felt a bit gratuitous, especially as she gets to know him better.

Even after Evan shows himself to be a friend to Luz, and a powerful one at that, opening up many commerce avenues for her, she’s still up in arms for reasons I couldn’t fairly discern. That’s when I started to lose interest a little bit and check the % mark on my e-reader: the book stayed a long time on a sort of half life between instalove/lust and quasi enemies to lovers, and that didn’t quite work for me.

Shana: I agree, but once Luz and Evan decided to team up to marry, I was hooked. What worked for me was the competence porn. Luz is skilled at trade, but limited in her effectiveness thanks to deeply entrenched sexism. Her father surprised her by leaving the family’s distillery to a male manager instead of Luz, and her anger and grief helps drive her to succeed. Luz’s abilities are part of what makes Evan fall for her, and he’s adorable in his protective rage every time a racist dude slights her. I enjoyed how the book allows Luz to impeach herself and make mistakes, while still being strategic enough to find a path to success. I liked watching Luz learn to trust herself.

Claudia:
I loved how Evan kept surprising her with his forward-thinking ideas, and really was an ally to her and attuned to her needs sometimes even before she voiced them. And I think that it was very important that Evan was shown to be touchy to others as well, including to several of his siblings, friends, and employees in the past and in the present. He just didn’t start being aware that he was leading a privileged life once Luz showed up and held up a mirror. He had a long track history of being supportive of others, and I really liked that about him.

Shana: Me too. I was smitten with how Evan is almost speechless with desire in Luz’s presence. And it was adorable watching him try to convince his friends that his marriage is only approximately commerce, not emotion. Dude, you’re not fooling anyone! In the meantime Luz is cluelessly sure that she’s going to receive her heart broken despite Evan’s obvious love for her.

These two are adorable, but they have an instant, electric attraction between them that might disappoint readers who like a slow burn. Evan is soppy from the occasion he meets Luz; they make out the day they meet and every time see one another. I didn’t hate the instalust, because even though these two fall fast, it takes them most of the book to fully trust one another. But the instalust didn’t entirely make sense to me.

The quick love these two build means that we don’t see much of a growth arc in their feelings for each other. Their passion remained at a 10 for most of the book, and they both know they want more than convenience early on in the relationship.

So the leading obstacle is communication—both were vague approximately their feelings and Evan lies by omission about his messy family drama. Communication issues aren’t my favorite romance barrier. What did you think of their relationship?

Claudia: Agreed that the instalove precluded a growth arc, a deeper sense of their love, maybe. I was reading the words on the paper but not really seeing that. But I think Luz’s trust issues were reasonable: she had been dealt a very not good hand by her father, who tied her inheritance in so many knots that put her in a very precarious position financially, on top of clearly showing her that he didn’t really trust her with money and definitely not with the running of the trade, which he gives to a male manager.

After that necessary betrayal, it was hard for Luz to trust Evan. Plus she had a lot going on – to her, the trip to Paris was more than the opportunity to show the world her first-rate rum. The commerce was at the very core of her identity in addition to being key to her financial survival.

But I couldn’t shake the feeling that since she was so good about reading people and business savvy, I wanted to see some of that savviness translate to her personal life and her relationship with Evan. So yes, it relied on miscommunications that felt a little off between two people shown to be shrewd and attuned to others.

Shana: As they plan their marriage, Evan wastes no time starting to take down his dad with his secret ally

Show Spoiler

his vengeful older Colombian half-brother who their father abandoned at birth. With Evan’s help, he’ll be the new inheritor, allowing Evan to slough off a title he’s never especially enjoyed.

Claudia: I loved the start of Evan and Luz’s marriage of convenience and the brief interlude they enjoy on their all-to-short honeymoon. It was a bit jarring, though, how the book seemed to switch almost entirely to Evan’s revenge plot once they arrived in Edinburgh after the honeymoon. Revenge plots are not my favorite and I wanted to see more about Luz, more about her work getting the cordial commerce up and running, and deepening her relationship with Evan.

Shana: Where the book truly excels is in its rich historical detail. The world is textured and vivid, rooted in real events and people. Luz peppers her conversations with Evan with lectures on Latin American and Caribbean artists, accomplishments, and history.

Claudia: It didn’t feel like lectures to me, and I think it worked because Luz is shown as a person so deeply connected to and so fiercely proud of her culture. To me it felt natural that she would want as many people as possible to know about her favorite authors, musicians, artists, etc. You could feel her giddiness, almost.

And you are right, it feels hopeful too, as both Luz and her relatives overcame fantastic obstacles by believing in what they had to offer to the world and carving a place for themselves.

We think readers who like their romances rooted in real history, who also appreciate hopeful historical stories that acknowledge the discrimination characters had to face, might like this. The pacing and the other issues we mentioned made this fall a bit short.

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