1665. It is five years since King Charles II returned from exile, the scars of the English Civil Wars are yet to heal and now the Great Plague engulfs the land. Alethea Hawthorne is safe inside the walls of the Calverton household as a lady’s companion waiting in anticipation of the day she can return to her ancestral home of Measham Hall.
But when Alethea suddenly finds herself cast out on the plague-ridden streets of London, a long road to Derbyshire lies ahead. Militias have closed their boroughs off to outsiders for fear of contamination.
Fortune smiles on her when Jack appears, an unlikely travelling companion who helps this determined girl to navigate a perilous new world of religious dissenters, charlatans and a pestilence that afflicts peasants and lords alike.
The Master of Measham Hall is the first book in a page-turning historical series. In lyrical prose, Anna Abney portrays the religious divides at the heart of Restoration England in a timeless novel about survival, love, and family loyalty.
I love investigating the real history and characters found in the books I’m reading and Anna Abney does an amazing job of transporting you back in time and reliving this turbulent and fascinating part of history, which is jam-packed full of double-crossing, divided loyalties, subterfuge and unsteady allegiances – I could not put to down and it has left me with a real book hangover as it was so immersive and exciting a tale.
The Master of Measham Hall truly gives us a fascinating insight into Alethea’s experiences and allows us to travel back in time with her and witness these events unfolding as she has to deal with her rapidly altered fortunes on the plague ridden streets of London – as well as getting the wider impact of these changes at a very intriguing time in history from the perspective of some unforgettable characters and set me off in search of more information about what it was like to be a woman at this time in history during the Restoration…
I’m delighted to be sharing my blogpost this afternoon from beautiful Dumfries & Galloway where we have been absolute;y spoiled by the views and the weather. It’s such an amazing part of the country and I’ve just had the best time here, relaxing, reading and travelling to different times and places through the pages…
This is a really engrossing read. Abney has created an excellent mixture of characters in this novel, from Alethea and her family to the bold Jack and a whole host of lively caracters across the social strata in between – which really shows the reader that these turbulent events had an impact on life whoever you were and whatever your situation, providing much food for thought about women’s rights, independence and morality during this period for a 21st-century readership. I think that readers of historical novels have had plenty of Tudor tales to enjoy and will get totally caught up in the dangers and intrigues of a very different period through this well written and impeccably researched novel set on the fascinating Restoration period.
I think that Abney is just as skilful in writing about domestic matters as she is about the history or the politics at this time and the way that the impact of these events was so vividly depicted was a real strength of this novel. It was interesting to see Alethea’s transformation across the story as you begin to see her leaving her childhood behind and growing into a more independent, and much more aware young women through her travails. It was even more fascinating to discover that these books are actually based on AnnaAbney’s real family history – so if you are a fan of ‘Who do You Think You Are’ you’ll find it absolutely immersive. It made for fascinating reading to see exactly what this time was like for women living through this period and it makes me wish that I could time travel to see some of these places ans people with my own eyes.
I loved the fact that Alethea’s story brings a really personal slant to the religious divides of the Restoration period and after studying Pope and Dryden at University, this novel definitely makes their period come to life. As usual, I spent a lot of time online after finishing it, looking up this period and falling into a bit of a rabbit hole finding out as much as I could about what things were like and imagining a world where things were so unpredictable and dislocating. Alethea is a wionderful character and she really steps off the page for you – I really look forward to hearing more from Abney and hope that she has a whole cast of fascinating ancestors to introduce us to…
Fans of historical epics and enthusiasts of novels exploring the role of women in history from a more personal perspective will love this beautifully written novel and I will be recommending it to readers who love period fiction and strongly written literary narratives. I really enjoyed this journey with Alethea through a fascinating episode in English history and heartily recommend that you too delve into this period in all its turbulent glory and find out more about it for yourself. Buy yourself a copy here and spend an afternoon like I did, totally wrapped up in this intelligent and engaging novel that wears its learning lightly and carries you forward as you are compelled to know what unfolds for these characters whose stories remain with you long after you’ve finished reading their stories.
PRAISE FOR THE MASTER OF MEASHAM HALL
‘It’s rare for a historical novel to feel so timely.’ Jo Baker, Sunday Times bestselling author of Longbourn
‘Impeccably researched and wonderfully atmospheric, with a heroine you can’t help rooting for.’ Frances Quinn, author of The Smallest Man
‘Exciting and immersive. It took me straight into the heart of Restoration England in all its rich and vivid detail. I was gripped! Such beautiful writing too – Anna is a stunning new talent.’ Nicola Cornick, international bestselling author of House of Shadows
‘A thoroughly engaging romp… By turns entertaining, surprising and thought-provoking, this is an impressive debut.’ Jane Johnson, author of The Sea Gate
‘A gripping depiction of what people will do to survive, the long-held beliefs and scruples questioned and cast aside as well as the unexpected kindnesses and unusual alliances made. In elegant prose, this enthralling novel puts a human face to the trials, terrors and enduring hopes of the plague years.’ Catherine Meyrick, author of The Bridled Tongue
Writer on the Shelf
Anna Abney is among the last descendants of the Abney family, former residents of Measham Hall, a lost house of Derbyshire. The Measham Hall series is a fictionalised account of her ancestors’ lives. An academic in the English and Creative Writing department at the Open University, she wrote her PhD on the seventeenth century writer, Margaret Cavendish, the first English woman to be published in her own name, under the supervision of Lisa Jardine at Queen Mary, University of London. Her writing also includes fiction, journalism and drama. Anna was born and raised in London and lived in Ireland, North and South, for thirteen years before returning to the Big Smoke. She now lives in rural Kent with her husband, a playwright and screenwriter, and their border-collie.