Review: The Davenports

Title: The Davenports

Author: Krystal Marquis 

Genres:  Historical Fiction

Pages: 384 

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Copy: ARC by publisher

Availability: Available Jan. 31

Summary: The Davenports are one of the few Black families of immense wealth and status in a changing United States, their fortune made through the entrepreneurship of William Davenport, a formerly enslaved man who founded the Davenport Carriage Company years ago. Now it’s 1910, and the Davenports live surrounded by servants, crystal chandeliers, and endless parties, finding their way and finding love—even where they’re not supposed to.

There is Olivia, the beautiful elder Davenport daughter, ready to do her duty by getting married . . . until she meets the charismatic civil rights leader Washington DeWight and sparks fly. The younger daughter, Helen, is more interested in fixing cars than falling in love—unless it’s with her sister’s suitor. Amy-Rose, the childhood friend turned maid to the Davenport sisters, dreams of opening her own business—and marrying the one man she could never be with, Olivia and Helen’s brother, John. But Olivia’s best friend, Ruby, also has her sights set on John Davenport, though she can’t seem to keep his interest . . . until family pressure has her scheming to win his heart, just as someone else wins hers.

Inspired by the real-life story of the Patterson family, The Davenports is the tale of four determined and passionate young Black women discovering the courage to steer their own path in life—and love. 

Review: I have to start with the obvious….LOOK AT THAT COVER! It is absolutely gorgeous. I saw this at a table at NCTE, the last book and I practically swooned. Then I grabbed it, hugging it to my chest because I was so excited to see a historical romance (because you just know) that featured Black Love. And I am not exaggerating here. I am still so in love with this cover. I couldn’t wait to read the book as I was also intrigued by its’ premise especially knowing that it was inspired by a real life wealthy Black family. I was also interested in the premise of the story being for four points of view of young women on the cusp of adulthood. And the novel delivered, in the usual and most unexpected ways. 

The events in the Davenports are set during the spring and summer ball season and follows the four young women was they navigate establishing their own identities while trying to meet their parent’s expectations. Olivia is “the good daughter” who is in her second season and whose parents expect an engagement by the end of the summer. Olivia’s beliefs are challenged when she meets Washington DeWight who exposes her to the injustices Blacks were facing in 1910 – injustices that her parents worked to shield her from. With each interaction with Washington, Olivia realizes she likes being an activist and struggles with a desire to break out on her own but still please her parents. At the same time, her attraction to Washington grows and they have an interesting courtship, but to me it somewhat felt one sided at times so I didn’t get invested much in their relationship. I was really enjoying Olivia’s social awakening much more. Her younger sister Helen was so much fun to read. Helen is very mechanically minded who loves fixing cars and has ideas for her father’s company, unfortunately because her father had antiquated notions, she knew he would never listen to her ideas. I liked that her brother John supported her and turned to her for her opinions, but the sad fact was that he often has to pass off her ideas as his own to their father. My heart broke for her because Helen was such a 2000ish woman stuck in 1910. Being the youngest Helen was also a rebel and I so loved her antics. Much like Helen, Amy-Rose was a bit of a rebel as well, but she had a touch more freedom. When she was a child Amy-Rose’s mother was hired on as a maid and when her mother passed the Davenport family decided to hire Amy-Rose and now she’s in a unique position of being employed by her “friends”. I use quotation marks because there wasn’t much friendly interaction between the trio outside of when Amy-Rose was helping dress Olivia and Helen. This depiction made me wonder how close the girls really were when they were children because I couldn’t see it on the page. What I did see and loved about Amy-Rose was that she was tenacious with her dream and even though she was in love with John, she still always put herself first. She was definitely one of my favorite characters in the entire novel. The character I liked the least was Ruby because while I understood she was in a precarious position with her parents, she seemed to react to the events in the novel, rather than make her own decisions. Her father was running for mayor of Chicago and like a good daughter, she was willing to do anything to help her parents out, which is admirable, however she consistently sacrificed her agency many times in the book. Of the four, Ruby is the one character who didn’t seem to grow throughout the novel.

Having four different perspectives throughout a novel can be a challenge but I feel like Marquis pulled it off very well. Each of the chapters were told from one of the 4 POV’s and all felt very like distinct individuals. The story moved along well and I got caught up reading when I should have gone to bed, which is the mark of a good book. I enjoyed the detail to history in the book and really loved the callouts to specific landmarks in Chicago. It was clear that Marquis did her proper research for The Davenports and this dedication is what makes this a great read.