A couple of days ago, I was chatting (via text) with a friend, and I told her that I was reading a book about “the woman before Wallis”.

My friend said, “Freda Dudley Ward?”

I said, “No, she’s in this book, but this one is about the other “Other Woman”.

Like my friend, I was also not aware of Thelma Furness’ involvement with David, the Prince of Wales, but having read this book, I am much more aware—not only of Thelma’s story, but of the Gloria Vanderbilt custody battle.

That’s right: Thelma Furness was the identical twin sister of Gloria Vanderbilt, whose daughter Little Gloria, was the focus of a divisive custody battle in the 1930s, and while one can only speculate, Thelma’s return to the United States to support her sister may have been the inciting incident that brought David and Wallis together. The rest, as they say, is history.

I should point out that this is a novel, so while some minor liberties may have been taken, everything is based on real people and real events. The narrative follows Thelma from meeting her second husband “Duke” Furness, which placed her amongst the upper echelons of English society and in close proximity to the Prince of Wales. There’s no grand passion; David is charming and charismatic and an affair just sort of happened.    

The timeline jumps between the events which begin with Thelma’s marriage and the 1934 custody trial. This serves as an interesting juxtaposition with the scenes in the main timeline and a reminder of how things take a disastrous turn.

I would absolutely recommend The Woman Before Wallis to anybody who likes the royal family and/or costume dramas like Downton Abbey. Turnbull is a talented author and the book kept me engaged the entire time, even though I already knew how things were going to turn out. She brought the world of 1920s society to life with vivid descriptions and enough hints of scandal to pique my interest. This book was a stunning debut, and I am looking forward to reading more of her books in the future.

I received a copy of this book from Harlequin MIRA/NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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