Down about the wait for Downton Abbey's third season? Well, today's featured book review title, The Maid of Fairbourne Hall by Julie Klassen, will help to fill the gap.
I first became aware of Julie Klassen when I read her first book, Lady of Milkweed Manor, a captivating Regency tale about a young woman's fall from and restoration to grace. There are twists and turns reminiscent of Charlotte Bronte, and some fascinating historical detail about nursing and caring for the babies of unwed mothers from this period in history. This was an area of history of which I had absolutely no knowledge and I found it captivating. I also appreciated that our heroine was no saint. She was a very real sinner who was able to find her way back in the end. I am often frustrated with Christian novels in their unreality, goopy sentimentality, and poor form, but Klassen impressed me enough with this novel--and helped to restore my love of reading for pleasure--so much that I have continued to look with anticipation toward each new release that she has published (these include The Apothecary's Daughter, The Silent Governess, and The Girl in the Gatehouse--the latter two of which are currently available in print editions for only $6 currently at Amazon.com). I never felt that any of the other books lived up to the unique subject matter and impressiveness of Lady of Milkweed Manor, but each one had interesting historical detail about certain cultural elements of Regency England. In addition, each book is a solid read, if sometimes a bit derivative from Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte (not always a bad thing for those of us who are lovers of Austen and Bronte). Whereas, I would give the first book 4.5 stars, I would give all of the successive books 3 or 4 stars.
The Maid of Fairbourne Hall is a book I also would rate well. It tells the tale of Margaret Macy, a wealthy and beautiful young woman who escapes her stepfather's evil intentions to marry her off to a morally degenerate nephew. She escapes with her maid, takes on a disguise, and goes to a service "job fair" of sorts where she is hired to be a maid in a household that, unbeknownst to her, is run by two of her former suitors, brothers named Lewis and Nathaniel Upchurch. In keeping with a theme that I have frequently found in Julie Klassen's books, a prideful young woman thus experiences a humbling. Margaret comes to realize that she was not very appreciative of the efforts of her own servants but sometimes was prideful and treated their efforts dismissively. She also comes to see that some of her taste in young men was not always best directed and that perhaps in one particular example, she has sorely underestimated the character and desirability of a certain suitor.
The intricacies of servant life recorded during Margaret's time at Fairbourne Hall easily called to mind Downton Abbey for me, and I felt more prepared to read this book for having watched the series. I did find myself taking a bit of time to get into the book, but about midway through, I found myself really becoming engaged with the characters and with some intriguing mysteries along the way. This book is shot through with compassion; there are even parallel attempts to humanize the struggles of both servants and slaves in this time in history. In addition, Klassen does not beat the reader over the head with spiritual lessons; rather, they seem a bit more organic to the story. This is another aspect of Klassen's writing that I have really come to appreciate. Nothing is more predictable that every Christian novel ending with a "sinner's prayer." Yes, Klassen's characters do always go through a transformation that is at least partially spiritual, but it is a somewhat journey-oriented transformation, by which I mean that they get well on their way to a new life with more distance yet to cover.
All-in-all, The Maid of Fairbourne Hall is a solid pick for lovers of Christian fiction and/or Regency England. Recommended. 3.5 stars out of 5.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Bethany House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”