This historical novel set when England was right on the brink of World War I has far more depth than I initially expected, there are the expected emotional moments, but more than that, it is a book that looks at the lives of women at different levels of the social scale.
Rutherford Park is the stately pile that is the home to William and Octavia Cavendish and their three children Harry, Louisa and Charlotte and of course their entourage of servants. As the book opens on Christmas Eve 1913, we meet Emily Maitland, a shy young girl from the nearby mill town who is laying fires early in the morning a sharp insight into the world of a young servant girl of this era, but Emily has a bigger worry than carrying out her chores this cold day.
Meanwhile Octavia is expecting the house guests including a woman she has feared for the entire span of her marriage, a distant cousin of William’s the alluring Helene. It isn’t only the servants who have to abide by the rules of the house though – Octavia feels that her life is similar to that of a bird in a gilded cage, she is bored and feels her character has been stifled by living in the big house. She feels that she is looked down upon by her peers and servants because her money, money which was needed to keep the house going, is comes from the wool mills she approaches the new year with a yearning to do something more than escort the beautiful and outgoing Louisa as she embarks on the season.
The author has obviously, sometimes too obviously, done her research and there are plenty of authentic references to clothing, political views and expectations of this time, however at times, especially near the beginning of the story I felt that modern perceptions were heavily imposed on the characters thoughts rather than them being displayed in their actions. As the book progressed with its many secrets and dramas, the characters held their own as the paced picked up.
This is a book told through multiple viewpoints which gave a rounded picture of the goings on at Rutherford Park with the timelines overlapping at some points to give extra depth. The downside of this was sometimes it was hard to follow who was who until the plot had progressed and the characters became far more distinct.
I enjoyed this sumptuous tale and it was pleasing that it covered men with some real emotions, this wasn’t a female only cast, dealing with woman’s issues, no-one escapes the drama in this book! If you like a happily-ever-after, this may not be the book for you although since this book was first published in 2013 I am pleased to see that we have the opportunity to find out more, and maybe tie-up some of the loose ends by reading The Wild Flowers and I am going to have to buy a copy to find out exactly what life has in store for this family who has faced more challenges than they could ever have imagined.