A Pearl for My Mistress by Annabel Fielding, 384 pages, HQ Digital, August 9th, 2017, Genre: Historical Fiction. Warning: May Contain Spoilers.
Review by Leigh Holland.
Hester is an olive-skinned young English woman who secures a maidservant position at Habden House. She serves Lady Lucy, the family’s daughter. Hester comes from the North, the daughter of the poor working class, for whom starvation is but a day’s wage away. Her slang usage, accent, roots, and economic upbringing are considered inferior by those who employ her. However, Hester was taught there was honor, dignity, and security in service. If she knows and keeps her place, works hard, and is “a good girl”, she will be happy in the end. Hester’s ultimate dream is to see the world and find that special someone to share it with.
Lady Lucy is a well-educated, single, aristocratic young English woman, raised to live up to parental expectations, to be “a good girl”. Failing to do so leads to being made to feel fragile, useless, expendable, powerless, and weak. Her step-mother and father have made her feel this way in the past on more than one occasion for failure to behave the way they demand. Lucy’s overriding goal is to never feel weak again, to never again be at the mercy of a stronger foe.
Hester and Lucy grow increasingly closer until they become lovers. This would cause a scandal, so they keep the love affair a secret. The romantic elements are sweet and sensual without being graphic. As their love blooms, Hester believes they are forging a relationship of equals in private while maintaining the distinction between their classes in public. Can someone who has been taught all her life to view Hester as inferior ever really see her as an equal?
Set in the 1930’s in Habden House, Melton Mowbray, and London, England, the plot involves Lucy’s blossoming journalism career, which she views as her pathway to freedom from her parents, and Lucy’s ever-increasing involvement with the British Union of Fascists. Over time, Lucy develops a double life- one as an aristocratic author deeply in love with her maid, and another as an agent of German interests, shaping public opinion in their favor during pre-WW II England. Given Hester’s mixed racial origins, Lucy’s alternate life inevitably causes friction when the two worlds collide. Will Lucy change her path or will their love affair end?
My favorite character was Hester. A pillar of ethical strength, Hester never loses her core principles or personal code of honor. She betrays no one, despite being surrounded by snakes. Hester’s road is lonely, as most around her lack that kind of inner strength during troubling times. Hester balances being true to herself with the needs of others. No matter what the future may hold for Hester, she will face it with dignity, honor, and grace.
My least favorite character was Lucy. Lucy is drawn to dark political ideals because she lacks inner strength. She is afraid everyone will see her weakness behind her carefully constructed facade. Lucy thinks strength comes from being in a position of power over others- the way her parents have been over her for her entire life. Rather than focusing on trying to help everyone rise above bad circumstances, Lucy can only feel good about herself if she can drag others down beneath her. Lucy slowly transforms into the people she despises most and remains blind to the fact.
The character development and writing style shine brightly. The historical period is well-researched. Fielding has a beautiful way of weaving words into a wonderful design on the page. Her writing is a delight to read.
Steady-paced, the plot is interesting, with its events presenting its characters with moral dilemmas. While I doubt I’d make the same choices some of the characters made, I understood their reasons for doing so. As an American reader, I was struck by the troubling parallels between social media propaganda and Russian collusion plots, and the efforts of German agents inside England prior to the war to try to sway England into an alliance with the Nazis through supporting sympathetic political aspirants and influencing the news articles disseminated among the populace.
A unique and engaging read, I loved this novel. I’d recommend it to lovers of historical fiction, especially those who enjoy a bit of romance and intrigue. You can find this book at A Pearl for My Mistress .
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…
“A gorgeous, elegant and well-researched book” –
Crystal King, the author of Feast of Sorrow.
About the Author:
Annabel is a London-based PR professional and a self-professed history geek. Her other allegiances include swing music, strong tea and travelling around Europe.