Reviewed by Kelly Ferjutz
It’s very obvious that Meredith Allard is an author who is not only devoted to history, but also to the research necessary to bring that period vividly to life for the reader. Not for one moment did I ever feel that these were people of today, and merely dressed in costumes appropriate to 150 years ago. Everything in life was vastly different then, and the settings, the manners, the clothing–every single detail in this story seems authentic. What a treat for the reader who loves historical fiction. However, this book should not be mistaken for a historical romance, which is totally different, if not always equally enjoyable. There is indeed a tender and touching love story, but that doesn’t in itself qualify the book to be a romance novel.
Hembry Castle has been the family home of the Meriwethers, the Earls of Hembry, for several generations, since Queen Elizabeth had awarded the title to the young Horace Meriwether who had been of great service during the battle of Cádiz in 1596. As if to portend the changes about to land on it, the most significant events are accompanied by rainfall. The story opens with the funeral of the Eighth Earl, greatly loved by all who knew him. Fortunate man, he had three sons, so the succession is never in doubt.
Even though he’d known since boyhood that he would someday be the Ninth Earl, Richard, now 49, has never truly accepted that idea. He feels himself inadequate to fill the shoes of his beloved father. The middle son, the Honorable Frederick, now 45, had taken himself off to the United States, where he married, sired a daughter, Daphne, and was able to follow his first love, journalism, as a reporter for the New York Times. The final son, the Honorable Jerrold, stayed in England, where his wife Hyacinth and two sons are determinedly trying to live the life of the nobility, encouraged by the Countess, who is more starchy even than Queen Victoria.
As with the lavish much-loved Downton Abbey, and before that Upstairs, Downstairs, we’re allowed to become acquainted with many of the large staff required to keep both homes running smoothly, at both the Castle in Berkshire and Staton House, the town home in London. Chief of these are the butler, Augustus Ellis and his wife, Mary, the housekeeper, married for nearly 50 years, and firmly in control of the downstairs family.
Frederick has assumed management of the London Daily Observer, but because of the family crisis, he has promoted a fast-rising young journalist to be the managing editor in his stead. Edward Ellis is astonished by his good fortune, which also helps his burgeoning career as a writer of fiction, along the lines of the great political journalist Charles Dickens, who had died the year before. Edward has long wanted to follow in the great writer’s footsteps, and labors each night on a longer collection of short stories, similar to those that have occasionally appeared in the paper. Frederick Meriwether is acquainted with the powers-that-be at a London publisher, and quickly sets up a meeting with Edward and the publishers.
As family tensions increase, Frederick comes to rely ever more on young Edward, who finds himself in a precarious position. As the grandson of the butler and housekeeper for the Meriwethers, he has allowed himself to be betrothed to a young lady more suitable to his class, as her father is also a journalist. But then he is thrown quite often into the company of the scintillating Daphne, and best-laid plans…
Agatha, the countess, has determined that Daphne, as the granddaughter and niece of an Earl, must be presented at Court. In spite of her protests, the young woman finds herself entirely unable to defeat the Countess.
Then, in a driving winter rain storm, the Earl is missing, and several days later, when a body is pulled from the river, it is identified as the Ninth Earl. Frederick now becomes the Tenth Earl, and his daughter is Lady Daphne. The world creaks on its axis, as generations of Meriwethers and their employees try to grasp the consequences of this tragedy. The Countess now turns her match-making efforts to the Lady Daphne, having failed utterly with her eldest son.
Skillfully weaving the threads of upstairs and downstairs, along with those of town and country, the author keeps a firm grasp on our attention as lives change, for better or worse. Throughout the story, Frederick proves himself to be the best possible inhabitant of the centuries-old title, as well as Hembry Castle. The best and possibly only resolution to the various quandaries ensues in a most satisfactory fashion.
I loved this story, its characters and all its complexities, and am eagerly anticipating the next book in the series.
First and foremost, Kelly is a reader, then a writer and editor. She adores Regency-set novels, and cozy mysteries. Every now and then, however, she finds something else to enjoy if it has a great premise with characters who belong in there, and fabulous writing! She writes under her own name, as well as her pen-name, Hetty St. James.
Review copy was provided by Copperfield Press. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.