The advance reader’s copy of Manor of Secrets seems marketed as Downton Abbey lite, or Downton Abbey for a tween audience. The front cover’s close-up of an elegant girl—she looks rather like Downton’s Lady Sybil—and the back cover’s portrait of a servant girl in the distance seem to promise upstairs and downstairs, propriety and scandal, and a crossing of class barriers.
The book does deliver on the elements suggested on the cover. Lady Charlotte, the girl shown on the front, is the upstairs heroine who’s unfulfilled by society and feeling unrequited given her status and privilege. Janie, the downstairs kitchen maid, lacks Charlotte’s opportunities, but has other freedoms (and maternal love) to balance things out. Both know their place, and both struggle with it. Both are longing for something more.
Potential love interests abound: Lawrence, the too-handsome scoundrel of a footman; Harry, the sweet servant with an eye for Janie; and Lord Andrew, who initially seems dull but oh-so-suitable for a society lady like Charlotte. Lawrence and Harry live up to their first impressions, for worse and for better; Andrew’s not what he appears to be initially.
There’s also no shortage of villains to threaten the two heroines, from Charlotte’s mother, the status-conscious Lady Diane, to the housekeeper and other downstairs employees who are jealous or concerned about those crossing class boundaries. These villains, though, are no match for Janie and Charlotte in their pursuits of love, happiness, and, most surprisingly and rewardingly, female friendship. Romantic love is certainly an interest for Janie and Charlotte, but friendship—specifically, sorority—comes first.
Since Charlotte and Janie both have brown hair and look rather similar, I was hoping Longshore would include a Prince and the Pauper style switcheroo in the plot. But while the book reveals a few surprises about the characters, this isn’t one of them. I was hoping for even more secrets and surprises, although there are some shocking revelations that alter the characters’ trajectories and which, fortunately for them, forestall an unhappy outcome.
The book’s tidy solution proves that Janie and Charlotte are right to stand up for themselves and that they should stand up for each other, too. In them, Longshore gives us characters who aren’t just focused on love, friendship, family, or vocation, but on finding a place in the world that allows them to seek out all of that on their own terms.
Rachel, who has a Ph.D. in English, is a freelance writer/editor and a voracious reader. You can talk to her about books at http://twitter.com/writehandmann.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Point Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.