In the Age of Love and Chocolate
Gabrielle Zevin wraps up her Birthright trilogy with IN THE AGE OF LOVE AND CHOCOLATE, which shows our heroine in a new and welcome light.
Gabrielle Zevin's Birthright trilogy, set in a near-future New York City in which chocolate and caffeine are contraband, has at its center the fascinating, complicated character of Anya Balanchine. Utilizing several of the conventions of Victorian fiction (including a first-person narrative voice that sometimes verges on the formal or prudish), Zevin juxtaposes this old-fashioned storytelling with her familiar yet futuristic setting.
"The second half of IN THE AGE OF LOVE AND CHOCOLATE, then, shows readers a very different side of Anya: vulnerable, lonely and confused, perhaps on the verge of acknowledging a perspective that has, until now, eluded her."
In the first two volumes of the trilogy, Zevin focused primarily on Anya's struggles to determine whether and how to allow her background (as the daughter and heir apparent of a major chocolate mafia family) to dictate the choices she makes and the future she hopes to create for herself. For the most part, these choices and challenges focus on Anya's career aspirations and ambitions, as she has struggled to figure out whether to surrender to her criminal background or to find a new way to distinguish herself.
The first half of IN THE AGE OF LOVE AND CHOCOLATE continues this exploration, as Anya appears to have come up with a compromise she can live with. In a surprising partnership with her former nemesis Charles Delacroix, she's on the verge of opening a new nightclub called the Dark Room, a place where, thanks to a legal loophole, New Yorkers can enjoy cacao legally and safely. Soon the Dark Room is succeeding beyond Anya's wildest dreams and is poised for national and even international expansion, and even the members of her mafia family are asking her for legitimate jobs --- it would appear that Anya has found the winning combination she's been seeking.
But Anya is still lonely --- her longtime love, Win Delacroix (Charles's son), doesn't want to play second fiddle to Anya's ambitions, and her little sister Natty is pushing her away, too. Anya has companionship, to be sure, but not love --- and she continues to be haunted by enemies and threats on all sides. What does Anya's success matter if she is destined to live her life alone?
The second half of IN THE AGE OF LOVE AND CHOCOLATE, then, shows readers a very different side of Anya: vulnerable, lonely and confused, perhaps on the verge of acknowledging a perspective that has, until now, eluded her. As the novel's title suggests, this conclusion is also a romantic one, a direction that will appeal to many readers while potentially turning off readers to whom the political and strategic components of Anya's story have been the most engaging.
As Zevin reflects in her author's note, however, the Birthright trilogy has always been primarily character-driven, and this new dimension to Anya's character can be read as the next step in her evolution, in her ongoing recovery from the horrible things that she's done and that have been done to her. "How do you get over your past and your mistakes?" Zevin asks. "How do you find light when so much in the world seems dark and sweetness when so much seems bitter?" These are questions that will stay with readers as they reflect not only on Anya's journey but also on their own lives and beliefs.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on October 31, 2013