England, 1933. Hester Blake, a young woman from a Northern town, hopes her new job as a lady's maid will open up new worlds for her; what she certainly never expects is to fall in love with her mistress, young Lady Lucy Fitzmartin.... and for that love to be reciprocated. Things start to turn sour, however, as Lucy finds herself drawn to a dangerous political ideology which begins to lead her down some dark paths.
This was less of a love story than I'd anticipated. I had perhaps expected more of a focus on "forbidden love" and the barriers encountered by a lesbian relationship - and one with a large class divide, too - in that era. In fact there is little of this, though Hester and Lucy's relationship is necessarily kept a secret - only one other person knows of it. While the initial romance between the two women is sweetly developed, Lucy's growing involvement in alarming political machinations and intrigue forms a large part of the story. I did not anticipate this aspect but very much enjoyed reading it.
Annabel Fielding has clearly done her research into the period, and I liked the fact that on several occasions I found myself heading off to Google to find out more about the likes of Lady Malcolm's Servants' Ball, or Valerie Arkell-Smith. There is a wealth of fascinating detail which generates a clear picture of the era, from the Northumberland home of the Fitzmartin family to London clubs and parties... and certain social and political attitudes which still carry an alarming ring of familiarity.
Lucy becomes increasingly corrupted and unlikeable as the story progresses, and it begins to seem that despite some doubts and fears, ultimately she will stop at nothing. Lucy seemed to me primarily to be striving for agency, to never again feel the helplessness she once did, and to prove herself. I really did wonder where it was all going to end for her, and the less educated but far more clear-sighted Hester. Is there any redemption for Lucy?
Recommended - historical fiction is not a genre I read a lot of, but I enjoyed this very much.
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