by Julie Klassen
Unconditional Recommendation: Set in 19th century England this historical romance will keep you engaged with a sprinkle of suspense and a dash of history, and entertained with the antics of well-developed characters.
Award: The Christy Award
My version of a book haul is not going to Barnes & Noble and accidentally buying more than what I came for, but when I go to the library and come out with more books than any person can reasonably read. This book was the result of one such book haul and it was a new read for me as I’ve never heard of this author, didn’t come across her online nor was it associated with any other books I’ve read. The cover is what pulled me in. As I was meandering through the library unable to help myself though I had about 15 novels at home, this book jumped out at me from a cart the librarians use to put returned books away. So I left with about 13 additional books that day and I’m glad I did because this book is worth the overdue fines that are assuredly coming to me!
Klassen’s stories have been likened to Jane Austen and with the details of 19th century English life and servitude and the nuances of interpersonal relationships, I can see the connection. I really enjoyed this historical romance because it had mystery, some light action and was overall a very tame read; which, I often find refreshing and a stark contrast to the Marvel movies I love.
Margaret Macy is to receive an inheritance from her great-aunt on her next birthday, but her mother’s new husband is scheming to have her married to his dishonorable nephew. After hearing his plan, Margaret flees her home in London and disguises herself as a housemaid. Though she never intended to actually work, she finds herself employed at Fairbourne Hall, the home of two past suitors. As Margaret struggles to learn the work of a servant, she must also strive to keep her identity secret from those within Fairbourne Hall and prying eyes that come to visit.
I love stories told from the perspective of a servant and that’s what took the book from my hand to my library bag. The reader gets an almost behind-the-scenes view of a functioning English manor and I really enjoyed this historical aspect of the book. I think that Klassen perfectly balanced the historical with the fictional as throughout the book I never felt overwhelmed by either. Despite the book being categorized as historical romance, I don’t think that the romance was the heart of the book. Yes, it is present, but it’s not what drives the story or drives the protagonist to do what she does. In this respect, I think the romance was well done.
The quality of the characters that I most appreciated was humility. Margaret Macy, a proper lady of high standing, is humbled both in her position as she plays the role of a servant and in her character as she comes to see the occupants of Fairbourne Hall from a different perspective. In her ignorance and pride as a lady she was often rude and presumptuous but when the roles are reversed she learns just how much work a servant does for their masters and mistresses and she comes to appreciate and respect them. Servants of that time period were supposed to be invisible and as a servant herself Margaret sees the world that has lived under her nose all her life for the very first time.
One of the brothers of Fairbourne Hall, Nathaniel Upchurch, is also a character humbled. He enters the story when he returns from Barbados where his father owns a slave-run sugar plantation. Upon witnessing firsthand the atrocity of slavery, Nathaniel is changed and once home must prove to his household that he is no longer the arrogant, ignorant man he was in his youth. He must also live humbly while straining to keep his temper in check with his fragile sister who has become a recluse after the man she loved died and his handsome brother Lewis who likes to flirt with women and spend money they don’t have. Add to that a new servant who looks like the woman he loved but coldly spurned him in favor of his brother and we’ve got quite the recipe for interesting scenarios at Fairbourne Hall!
The interpersonal relationships were easy to follow and you came to know the characters of each person very well. The storytelling was engaging and the content tame. A very enjoyable read and if you are a fan of historical romance this is certainly a good book to try!
Fun fact: Julie Klassen lives near Saint Paul, MN with her family, has worked in publishing for years, and her books have won Minnesota Book Awards, Christy Awards, and been a finalist for a RITA Award from the Romance Writers of America. I will definitely be checking out more of her books.