A story of class, scandal and forbidden passions in the shadow of war. Perfect for fans of Iona Grey, Gill Paul and Downton Abbey.
England, 1934. Hester Blake, an ambitious girl from an industrial Northern town, finds a job as a lady’s maid in a small aristocratic household.
Despite their impressive title and glorious past, the Fitzmartins are crumbling under the pressures of the new century. And in the cold isolation of these new surroundings, Hester ends up hopelessly besotted with her young mistress, Lady Lucy.
Accompanying Lucy on her London Season, Hester is plunged into a heady and decadent world. But hushed whispers of another war swirl beneath the capital… and soon, Hester finds herself the keeper of some of society’s most dangerous secrets…
Hester’s story is a proper page-turner. If you love a gripping family saga with well-developed characters and an irresistible storyline, you’ll love this period read from Annabel Fielding.
I am a huge fan of Sarah Waters’ period novels and I saw shades of Waters in this well-drawn wartime drama. Hester is drawn to the big city from the north in the hope of finding a different life, far away from her childhood home in the north. Gaining a job with the wealthy Fitzmartin family is the first step and she finds herself drawn to their daughter who is far from the obedient demure young lady she is expected to be.
Hester is drawn to Lady Lucy like a moth to a flame despite the inherent danger of this illicit attraction. The forbidden nature of their attraction is juxtaposed with the turbulent politics of the time where admiration for fascism, support for Hitler and fear and suspicion of the Nazi regime all clashed with one another. I feel that this novel balances the personal and political very skilfully, blending them together seamlessly to make Hester’s situation all the more credible due to the care that Annabel Fielding has taken to get the period setting exactly right and immerse you in Hester’s story.
This novel is set right in the middle of a vastly changing Europe – the bright young things, flappers and the jazz age have paved the way for all of the old certainties about class, gender and sexuality to be disintegrating and once these certainties come adrift, it is more and more difficult to understand exactly where your allegiances lie – and who you are loyal to…
The love affair itself is convincingly depicted and we see exactly why Hester would be drawn to the bold, iconoclastic and rebellious Lady Lucy. The references to real people of the time – such as Unity Mitford – add another dimension to this compelling read as it makes us remember that there were many Lady Lucys who flirted with politics and held fairly extreme views that might seem very shocking nowadays. I felt very invested in Hester’s tale and enjoyed seeing the workings of Hebden Hall from ‘below stairs’ as I feel that it gave a real insight into the inner workings of these homes and how they were still being run, even in the 1930s.
I watched The Remains of the Day whilst I was reading A Pearl for My Mistress and I saw lots of parallels in both writers’ skilful depictions of political uncertainty and never knowing quite who to trust, set against a more personal exploration of passion and feeling that your emotions can never quite be spoken aloud due to circumstance.
I really enjoyed this fascinating period piece and it fitted in with the Remembrance day celebrations as I was reading it and thinking about the eventual circumstances of the war that was brewing in this novel. Hester was a stand-out character for me and I enjoyed seeing this ‘golden world’ from an outsider’s perspective and witnessing the ‘Downton Abbey’ feeling through her eyes.
I look forward to hearing more from Annabel Fielding and it’s made me go off in search of other books set during WW2 – I might even go off in search of some Nancy Mitford to get another fix of the upper classes between the wars.
Author on the Shelf.
Annabel Fielding is a novelist, a history geek and an international woman of mystery.
She has long since pledged her allegiance to travel, tea and books. On her blog you will find travel posts, lesser-known facts, some photography and (mostly) historical fiction-related book reviews. To check out her blog click here.
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Thank you to Annabel & HQ Digital for a copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review.