Genre: Historical fiction, thriller
Publisher: Sharpe Books
Pub date: 23 April 2020
Young Hannah Hubert may be the granddaughter of a French merchant and the daughter of a Spitalfields silk weaver, but she has come down in the world.
Sent one spring day as maidservant to a disgraced aristocrat, she finds herself in a house full of mysteries – with a locked room and strange auctions being held behind closed doors.
As a servant, she has little power but – unknown to her employers – she can read. And it is only when she uses her education to uncover the secrets of the house, that she realises the peril she is in.
Hannah is unable to turn to the other servant, Peg, who is clearly terrified of their employers and keeps warning her to find alternative work.
But help might come from Thomas, the taciturn farmer delivering milk to the neighbourhood, or from Jack Twyford, a friendly young man apprenticed to his uncle’s bookselling business. Yet Thomas is still grieving for his late wife – and can she trust Jack, since his uncle is one of her master’s associates?
Hannah soon discovers damning evidence she cannot ignore.
She must act alone, but at what price?
This is the first book published by the author and I am so glad I read it!
The main character Hannah is the perfect heroine, she’s intelligent, independent and caring.
My heart broke when I first read about Peg, a servant working alongside Hannah when she finds herself with a new mistress in the Chalke household. Peg is crippled, starving and is terrified of her employers so it’s a relief for her when Hannah begins to help her with food and chores. I loved how their friendship developed through the story it was truly heart warming.
Hannah soon realises the household has a secret but can she uncover it and expose the culprits or will she become victim to their schemes?
This story is full of emotion and turmoil including a rape scene which may upset some readers so I wished to advise whilst writing this review. Although there is a dark side to this story there is also a lovely love story which I really enjoyed. Richell-Davies has a very easy to read writing style and I found myself absorbed into this book from the first chapter.
I have that memory of walking with him in a meadow full of grazing cows, their jaws moving rhythmically and their eyes lazy with interest. Birdsong from the great oak in the centre of the field. Sunlight on spiders’ webs in the lush grass. There had been mud in his farmyard, as he had said there would be, but that proved it was not a foolish fairy tale.
The descriptives of the slums of London were excellent and so vivid you can imagine standing in the middle of Hannah’s room or in the street watching a cock fight or bull baiting. Richell-Davies has portrayed the disparity between the rich and the poor in 18th century London by plunging the reader into the centre of it’s secrets.
There’s some fabulous characters in this book, I’ve already mentioned Hannah and Peg but I also loved Thomas and Nellie. Of course there’s also the villains in the book who I very much disliked. I don’t like giving away too much about books but I’d never have guessed at the ending when I started this. It’s fast paced and I didn’t want it to end!
Although the story follows Hannah and her quest to expose the secrets of the house in which she’s employed it also shines a light on the lives of some females in that era and the circumstances they may have faced. Females who couldn’t take care of their child were often forced to hand their baby to a poorhouse. Another alternative was the Foundling Hospital which used a lottery system to accept babies, but those accepted did face a better future than those left at poorhouses. I will admit I hadn’t known about this until reading this book but I’m glad I’ve learnt a little about it now and I hope to continue to learn more about the Foundling Hospital and the ladies of this era. Richell-Davies provides an author’s note at the end explaining more about the Foundling Hospital which is very interesting along with sources for further reading. This is one of the reasons I love historical fiction, I find I am always learning when books are based on true history and events.
Overall, although there are some distressing scenes this is a fantastic book full of intrigue and raw emotion but woven with a story of friendship and loyalty. It’s definitely worth a read and I do hope to read more from Richell-Davies in the future.
Maggie was born in Newcastle and has a first-class honours degree from the Open University.
Her debut novel, The Servant, won the Historical Writers’ Association 2020 Unpublished Novel Award, together with a publishing contract from Sharpe Books.
The thriller was inspired by a visit to London’s Foundling Hospital Museum, with its heart-breaking stories about the tokens desperate women left there in the hope that they might, one day, be able to reclaim their child.
Maggie has had short stories published, been shortlisted for Bridport Flash and the Olga Sinclair Award and longlisted for the Exeter Novel Award. She is a member of the Historical Writers’ Association and the Romantic Novelists’ Association.
She is currently settled just outside Royal Tunbridge Wells with her husband, but has also lived in Peru, Africa and the United States.
The Servant is available here
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