Julie Klassen's The Maid of Fairbourne Hall sends a young woman in fear for her virtue fleeing London as far as she can, seeking a position in service. Margaret Macy has never worked a day in her life, but if it means safety from her stepfather and his lecherous nephew, she will learn. When a local steward hires her as a housemaid, she little expects he is the new steward of Nathaniel Upchurch, a man Margaret scorned for his handsome brother, little good that it did her. Suddenly Margaret is emptying his chamber pots and learning that maybe she misjudged him - and his siblings. But is it safe for her to reveal her true identity to them?
While Klassen writes an in-depth Regency-era novel, this one reminds me of the Donkeyskin/Catskin/Rashie Coatie fairy tale - a common story about a princess who flees her father's house, disguises herself as a servant, and hides in the castle of a prince. When he hosts a ball, she cleans herself up and appears in a dress made of starlight, and the prince falls in love, but then she returns to her disguise below stairs. Eventually he seeks her out, rids her of her disguise, and marries her, at which point she reconciles with the family she fled. This novel could be a retelling of the story, though without the magic and with a lot more hard work. Klassen grounds it in reality, taking a girl who knows nothing of work and making her learn, teaching her how to live with and respect those who are "beneath" her.
Though she grew up a vicar's daughter, Margaret is by no means perfect - a trifle spoiled, she is accustomed to a life of gentility, with servants to do all the work for her; as such, she is rather selfish and condescending. When she has to start fending for herself, she discovers how useless she is, with no marketable skills to commend her. I like the changes that come over her while she is in service; she is still impulsive, but she learns to appreciate all the hard work the servants do, she gains better discernment, and she learns self-sacrifice.
There is less of a focus on God in this book than in some of Klassen's others, but there is a good message on not judging people, especially on first impressions. Margaret learns that over and over again - with her former maid, her fellow servants, and the Upchurch siblings. And it proves true, too, with how other characters view Margaret.
This is a clean romance, with a good character building for Margaret and Nathaniel. I appreciated that, at least for the first half of the book, Margaret and Nathaniel have next to no contact with each other, as it should be between a man and the female staff. And when they do start interacting, the reasons make sense. The romance is a bit predictable (as mentioned, it follows the same plot as a number of fairy tale variants), but it did not detract from the story for me. Besides, there is a fair number of enjoyable subplots to spice up the tale and keep it fresh.
I have always enjoyed a novel by Julie Klassen because there is lots of mystery, a little bit of action, historical information, and just the right dose of romance! "The Maid at Fairbourne Hall" definitely didn't lack in these areas (even if there was not quite as much romance as I had hoped which is why I'm giving this novel a 4.5 stars)!
I thought the world of servants fascinating especially coming from a main character who was part of the upper class! Macy was a character who grew so much throughout the story and reminded me of the humble Biblical message to not judge anyone based on appearances! Nathaniel was another wonderful character as well as his entire family! It was hard choosing a favorite character as there were many I liked!
The only thing that I was so bummed about concerning this novel was the ending, but not because it wasn't good or anything of that nature! I had just hoped for more to have occurred at the end! I would be specific in what I mean by that, but I don't want to spoil the ending!
Overall, despite this complaint above I really enjoyed reading this novel! It kept me up quite a few late nights in wanting to read more of these characters who had captured my heart! The storyline is sure to leave you on the edge of your seat as well as having a good giggle!
this book takes us on a trip back in time and allows us to see just what life was like in the 1800's. i love the Jane Austin style/time set and this book is not a disappointment. the story is exciting [sometimes too exciting...i couldn't put it down]! Ha. we are able to see family functioning under the dictates of a society where "looking/being proper" decides how the characters react to any given situation. it is an honest look at "what we see it not always how it really is"... I highly recommend this book. this author never disappoints!
This book had a lot of depth. The immediate problem that Margaret Macy faces, is a devious step-father who wishes to marry her off to his nephew, an equally devious and fortune seeking cad. When she overhears their true intent and the lengths they will go to, she suddenly decides to flee. What ensues is a great ride, as we read about her many struggles, and character changing experiences. This book deals very much with how judging a person for whom we think they are, is not always, the wisest choice, and walking in their shoes can be exceedingly eye-opening. There are many relationships and discoveries which add a lot to this book. The historical details are quite enjoyable, but without being "too much", as I have seen with some other authors who actually go into grotesque detail. My only complaint about this book is that, it ended to abruptly. I do not understand why either authors or editors would believe readers would enjoy not having a little more meat to a happy ending. When Margaret finally gets to be with the man she is meant to, it is all over so quickly. I would have loved to know what happened when she returned to meet with the staff at Fairbourne Hall, and how each of them reacted to her and her "news". Perhaps jumping forward a bit to her new life and the completeness she now felt. A bit about the career her husband decided to pursue for his new future, etc.
4.5 out of 5 stars simply for the abrupt ending and questions I was left with.
Overall, I would recommend this book to a friend.
Included: Reading group questions and a couple of historical notes in the acknowledgement which relate to the story.
I was given this book by a friend and am offering my honest opinion.