After her brother's death on the Front, Englishwoman Caroline takes up a position as a governess in Ireland with a family of the Anglo-Irish ruling elite. Stuck midway between the family and the servants, her only friend is an outgoing maid named Grace, and, over time, Caroline comes to realise that she is attracted to her. As the boundaries of their friendship blur into something more, Caroline and Grace must contend with their different stations, backgrounds and ideologies, Grace's involvement in the Irish nationalist movement and the prejudices of their time.
For me, the stand-out aspect was way that West conveyed the zeitgeist by weaving in so many different social developments of the time: Irish nationalism, female suffrage, World War I and the attendant changes to post-Victorian society, including social liberalisation and destratification. Caroline is a character who is often in her own head, and so we get to see her think through all these things, alongside her reflections on her sexuality.
Having said that, my enjoyment dropped off somewhat as the book pregressed. The writing is very straight-forward, and while this didn't bother me initially, it became a bit info-dump-y as the plot reached its denouement in the Easter Rising of 1916. So, while I loved the historical detail, I also think it went a bit overboard towards the end, when the retelling of the Rising seemed to eclipse Caroline and Grace's romance.
Maybe it was just a disconnect between me and Time of Grace. I'm primarily a historical romance reader, and perhaps this book leans more towards 'historical fiction with romance' rather than pure 'historical romance'. It does not adhere to some modern romance genre conventions, and is in some ways is more stylistically similar to the old school saga romances. Caroline and Grace's relationship is very on-again, off-again, which - while very understandable given their circumstances - meant that the book was essentially split in to three acts: first, Caroline and Grace together at their post, Caroline alone back in England, then the two of them reunited in Ireland. The whole book was also written in Caroline’s POV and I sometimes wished that I had more insight into Grace's thought processes, or that I could see her without Caroline’s lens of fear and middle class English morality (although she does come to challenge this). These things did my head in a little bit, particularly towards the end, but I do wonder if someone who does read more widely would have a different reaction.
Readers who are pedantic about editing should also be aware that there are some issues with the Kindle text, particularly the placement of text that isn't speech inside quotation marks. As my engagement with the book waned, it became more frustrating to have to re-read a passage to ascertain where speech ended and prose began.
Overall, though, the touching romance between two very different women, the impeccable sense of place and the chance to learn about the Irish revolutionary period made Time of Grace well worth the read.