The Servant by Maggie Richell-Davies
The Servant by Maggie Richell-Davies
Publisher: Sharpe Books
Published: 23 April 2020
Genre: Historical Fiction, Historical Thriller
Available: ebook, paperback
Sex: 💓yes, minimal and not gratuitous, integral to the plot
Violence: 😨mistreatment of servants, rape scene
Reviewers Note: I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Author Bio: Maggie Richell-Davies was born in Newcastle and has a first-class honours degree from the Open University. She lives in Kent with her husband. The Servant is her first novel.
The Official Blurb: 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 of mysteries, with a locked room and auctions being held behind closed doors.
As a servant, she has no 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 danger she is in.
She is unable to turn to the other servant, Peg, who is clearly terrified of their employers and keeps warning her to find alternative work.
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?
It is then she discovers damning evidence she cannot ignore. But as a young servant, and a girl, Hannah’s chances of getting this into the hands of the proper authorities are negligible. She must act alone – and be inventive.
The Plot in Brief: (no spoilers) Young Hannah Hubert is a kitchen maid in a good home. But her mistress is leaving London and she must seek employment elsewhere. She finds herself at the rundown home of the Chalkes, fringe aristocrats, down on their luck. Hannah soon finds the house holds a dark secret. She is determined to ferret it out, putting her life in danger. Two men befriend her, Thomas, the farmer and Jack the printer's apprentice. Hannah must decide who to trust, if anyone, as she navigates the evil underbelly of Georgian London.
The Characters: I fell in love with Hannah immediately. Her pain, her humiliation, her desperation reached through the pages of this beautiful book and grabbed my heart. Trapped in the life of the working poor, Hannah has only her wits and her talent to keep her head afloat. Her character is well drawn and believable, she is intelligent, inquisitive and loyal to a fault. Helping her is Peg, a poor broken woman, Tom the farmer is a delight and Jack, the blue-eyed handsome man is equally attractive and repellent. The 'bad guys' are despicable in that their actions are all to believable.
The History: The story takes place in 1765-Georgian London; not in glittering court circles or aristocratic stately homes. No, the author flips that world on its head and shines a light on the dark underbelly of a privileged society. This is the gritty, dirty, diseased world of the working poor. The book is well researched and it is nice to see a compassionate but realistic portrayal of the lowest class. The author holds nothing back, from lice filled dank rooms to overflowing chamber pots, she flings the stark reality of their life at us in an unflinching manner.
The Writing: Written in first person with a zippy narrative, I found the book practically turned the pages for me. Well edited, the voice is fresh and compelling.
Overall Opinion: I loved this book from the get go. Hannah is charming and I felt sooo sorry for her. I wanted to swoop down and save her from her situation. Some of the scenes are heartbreaking and hard to read, but that only means the author has done her job. I can see why this book was chosen by The Historical Writers Association HWA/Sharpe Books Unpublished Novel Award 2020, a well deserved win.
Recommendations: Anyone who loves historical fiction will enjoy this book. There is a rape scene and some of the subject matter may make some people uncomfortable. I highly recommend this book!
My Rating: I give this book a big 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
1 ⭐ Star: Not good at all, do not read!
2 ⭐⭐ Stars: Read only as a last resort, no other books available
3 ⭐⭐⭐Stars: Good, enjoyed it, will recommend with reservations
4 ⭐⭐⭐⭐Stars: Really good, read this book!
5 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐Stars: So good, I might read it again sometime! Highly recommend