I’d heard a lot about Maestra ever since its UK release last month, so I was thrilled to be sent the US edition for review. I’d heard it described as Gone Girl meets Fifty Shades of Grey—and now having got to the end, I’d say that’s pretty accurate. Maestra was sexy, exciting, wicked, original… There are so many good adjectives to use when describing this book. It’s just… I didn’t like it.
Maestra by L.S. Hilton is a tale of hedonism, murder and corruption in the art dealing world. It follows Judith Rashleigh as she goes from slightly mousy assistant at a London auction house, to seductive hostess at a seedy champagne bar, to leading player in an international scandal.
It starts as an accident: Judith is fired after accidentally exposing a conspiracy at the auction house; she accepts a trip to the French Riviera with a rich client from the bar; an ill-advised attempt to slip him some sedatives goes horribly wrong…
But Judith may not be as innocent as she appeared. As she flees for her life, Judith collects fake names, lovers, and a casual few million in the bank. It should be terribly exciting—but is it?
Judith knows what she wants, and has no qualms in getting it. As a character, that makes her a little hard to relate to, but when set against a backdrop in which women are little more than silent, luxury accessories to obnoxiously rich men, it’s rather refreshing.
The sex scenes are as graphic and gruesome as the murder scenes—which is a massive improvement on Fifty Shades of Grey‘s coy refusal to name any body parts ruder than an elbow, and made Judith’s sexuality gloriously dangerous and powerful, rather than submissive.
From a feminist perspective, however, I’m rather in two minds here: I do love the concept of the woman using and manipulating her own objectification to become the one in power (see my views on why I respect the Kardashians), though I think Judith could have been even more subversive here. (Her continual need to partake reluctantly in sex acts in order to get ahead had the unfortunate effect of making her reliant on men and how they wanted to treat her.) And if this is the type of feminism L.S. Hilton is pushing, I would have preferred her to use her full name on the front of the book. While I don’t know her specific reasoning, using initials is usually an attempt to remain gender-neutral—a very understandable desire in a world in which female authors are still treated with less respect—but if she truly wanted to portray power in traditional femininity, I would have liked to see her follow through.
And can we talk about that gorgeous book cover? The suggestive slash down the middle is actually cut out, making the book feel wonderfully textured to hold. I admit I’m an e-reader fanatic myself, but this one is worth owning on paper.
Ultimately, my inability to relate to Judith made the novel less and less readable as I went along. I usually love an anti-hero, but I need to understand them; Judith I just couldn’t wrap my head around.
It seems a strange thing to say about a character who makes murder so sexy and sex so scary, but I’m just not sure her personality is quite strong enough. The individuality she should have had is dampened by L.S. Hilton’s attempts to use modern, millennial language: hearing Judith talk about selfies and Instagram is bland and jarring, especially as the references feel more than a little forced.
This made my reading experience tedious when it should have been thrilling, as you can watch in my Snapchat video diary. (Though it’s worth noting that this is a very subjective view; as I was posting these videos, I received a ton of snaps in return from people telling me they thought my description made it sound brilliant!)
Although I didn’t love this book myself, that wouldn’t stop me from recommending it. Readers with a greater knowledge of Art and Art History might get more from it, or those who enjoy crime storylines in their own right. (I love a crime thriller, but only when fuelled by strong personalities; not everybody feels the same way!)
Maestra is the first in a trilogy, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see all three books gain a cult following—especially when the films come out. Personally, I won’t be coming back for part 2.
Maestra is out in the UK, and will be on sale in the US from 19th April
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.