I wasn’t convinced about this at first, because, whilst, the Kirov trilogy, the Morland books and the War At Home books all very much revolved around national and international events, this one was almost entirely about the personal lives of both upstairs and downstairs characters. I did get into it, though, and will definitely be looking out for the rest of the series. There were a few references to Edward VII’s coronation and to the Boer War, and – was this a nod to Highclere Castle, with its Downton Abbey connections 🙂 ? – Howard Carter made an appearance, but it was mainly about people’s love lives and finances, which wasn’t entirely what I’d been hoping for. There were a few middle class characters who got involved with free libraries (which seemed oddly mid-Victorian for 1902, but still) and look as if they may get involved with the suffragettes in future books, though, so fingers crossed for some more meaty historical stuff in future books. And it was still very enjoyable, and I’m sure it’ll be popular.
There were a lot of characters, the story kept flitting between them, and it was very much a scene setter, start of a series book. There’s obviously a lot more to come! The rather Enid Blyton-esque title suggested that there’d be hidden passages behind portraits with strange eyes, leading to secret mines or treasure troves. There weren’t! But there were a few hints at mysteries to be resolved in later books.
The basic plot (without too many spoilers – this all happened at the beginning!) was that the Earl of Stainton had broken his neck in a hunting accident, as you do; and his son and heir therefore had to be summoned home, to Buckinghamshire, from his archaeological expedition in Egypt. At the same time, the younger son left the Army and also came home. And there were three daughters, one married, two not yet “out”. Incidentally, would a Victorian earl and countess really have named two of their daughters Linda and Rachel? The youngest was Alice, which was a fairly typical aristocratic name at the time, but Lady Linda and Lady Rachel?! Anyway, it turned out that the estate had been badly run for years, and that the late earl had spent what money there was on his fancy woman and membership of expensive London clubs, so the best bet for the new earl was to find a rich wife. Off he went to the London Season, where he met a wonderful girl with no money, and her sweet, shy best friend, whom he didn’t fancy but who was rolling in it. Typical, eh?
Oh, and his grandma was still alive. And living on Bruton Street. Obviously this was 24 years before a certain significant birth took place in that neck of the woods, but it was mentioned that the Strathmores were her neighbours 😉 .
It seemed at first that the upper class characters were all going to be either callous or naive and the servants were all going to be either stupid and obsequious or sly and devious, but the characterisation did very much improve as the book went on, and I do want to know what happens to them all. Don’t be expecting Gone With The Wind, but this is a nice read on a dark autumn night.