Who delivers a historical fiction girl’s trip with the vibes of a spectacular Real Housewives vacation episode towards the beginning of their historical romance book? Author Adrianna Herrera, that’s who! Much like the infamous TV franchise, A Caribbean Heiress in Paris opens with a trip that promises friendship, business, and pleasure. You’ll find that the similarity in these dynamics end there, as the novel continues on to deliver a marriage of convenience with stakes and realized agency unlike any other actualization of this trope I’ve ever encountered.
Las Léonas—the nickname for the protagonists of Herrera’s latest historical romance series of which A Caribbean Heiress in Paris serves as the first entry—may be as ferocious as the ladies of the Real Housewives series, except that any barbs they spare for one another are made with affection. These sentiments fill their trip together to Paris with the support that Luz Alana Heith-Benzan needs. Prior to the story’s beginning Luz Alana’s sole remaining parent, a Scotsman who managed the rum distillery inherited by Luz Alana’s mother in Hispaniola, passed away. This leaves her in quite a bind as she works to expand the business among male peers who disdain women while also caring for her 10-year-old sister. So though she’s being accompanied by her two best friends (the other Léonas, Aurora and Manuela) as well as her sister who is being watched by their cousin, Luz Alana is highly stressed about making her rum’s global debut during the Exposition Universelle in Paris. When every networking opportunity that she takes is met with misogynistic ire and disruption during the exhibition, Luz Alana is righteously indignant to find her table rearranged when she returns to her display on the exhibit’s first day. When the man partially responsible for these changes responds to her in the most confounding of ways, Luz Alana finds that she may have a compatriot in her work after all. What she doesn’t realize is that this brief encounter will turn into a whirlwind romance that sees her entering a mutually beneficial marriage of convenience that will bring both families immense joy among the strife. Is that not the truest potential of this trope? Building the exquisite angst of deeply desiring another person, having it within your grasp, but without the assurance of permanence?
Despite having Herrera’s works on my radar for a while, this is the first book I’ve had the chance to read. And what a read it was. I could clearly pinpoint how her experiences with language, living in the Dominican Republic, and international travel has provided the lens necessary to make for an intriguing globe-trotting series. Her relationship building among the characters was strong, as you could see the love each character holds for one another in how they interact and speak about each other. One of the reasons I’ve soured on most historical fiction not written by BIPOC authors is because of how spoiled I’ve become by works like Herrera’s. A Caribbean Heiress in Paris is chock full of people of color of multiple sexual identies and living experiences who have concerns realistic to society during 1889. Whereas decision-makers involved in publishing historical fiction have often opted to reinforce societal injustice through complacent narratives, it is books like Herrera’s that show us how a justice-oriented lens has always been in the will of the people, even if it was drowned out by those who benefitted from the status quo controlling resources like media. Read this book if you want to know what it looks like to see women empowered by their own strength supported by those who will do anything to help them see their dreams fulfilled. It could have happened in 1889, just as it assuredly happens now.