Manor of Secrets
By Katherine Longshore
Published: January 28, 2014
Lady Charlotte has not yet had her debut season but she is bored with the life she is expected to lead. She longs for adventure and wants to be an author. Unfortunately her mother has other plans and expects Charlotte to secure a marriage proposal from Lord Andrew Broadhurst before the season begins. Janie is a kitchen maid working for Charlotte's family along with her mother who is the cook. Janie knows her place but she has dreams too. Charlotte and Janie's paths cross when she catches Janie dipping her toes in the lake and Charlotte wishes she could have that kind of freedom. A friendship between a kitchen maid and a lady would be forbidden especially by Charlotte's strict mother, Lady Diane but that doesn't stop Charlotte. Then Charlotte's scandalous aunt arrives throwing everything into turmoil.
Manor of Secrets is a little different from the other teen historical fiction set during this time period. While there is that upstairs/downstairs divide, the focus of the novel is on the growing friendship between Charlotte and Janie. The characters seem more innocent and younger too.
Charlotte's naivete can be frustrating. She behaves like a much younger girl at times and she seems to live in a dreamworld. Charlotte is kind to Janie though she doesn't realize it when she puts Janie in a difficult place by asking her to come upstairs to help her though Janie is a kitchen maid. Charlotte also has unrealistic expectations of romance. Although Charlotte is initially annoying, she grows through her friendship with Janie as the story progresses. She is well meaning and she is lonely having never had her mother's love or pride.
Janie on the other hand is more of a realist. She has experienced hardship and is not keen to do anything that would cost her a job since she has only recently been reunited with her mother. Although Janie has the opportunity for romance she knows that she'd be fired if she pursued it. Janie is a more sympathetic character and even though Charlotte endangers her job, she is still willing to try to help her because she understands Charlotte's loneliness.
Manor of Secrets does not have quite the same gossipy feel as other Edwardian/Downton Abbey inspired fiction. It takes a look at family relationships, dreams, and the roles of women during that time period. Although the secret is easy to guess, it may not detract from the reading experience as the book is more about the characters' relationships and friendships than solving a mystery.
I have heard that this author's Tudor fiction is excellent which may be why Manor of Secrets did not quite meet my expectations. The novel has its flaws but it would be a good pick for those who enjoyed Leila Rasheed's Cinders and Sapphires or T.J. Brown's Summerset Abbey. Those readers looking for a little more soapiness or substance should check out The Luxe series by Anna Godbersen.
Note: I received an e-ARC for review purposes courtesy of Netgalley and the publisher