Published by: Duckworth Books
Date Released: 15/07/2021
Date Read: 13/06/2021
1665. It is five years since King Charles II returned from exile, the scars of the English Civil Wars are yet to heal and now the Great Plague engulfs the land. Alethea Hawthorne is safe inside the walls of the Calverton household as a companion to their daughter. She waits in anticipation of her brother William’s pardon for killing a man in a duel before they can both return to their ancestral home in Measham Hall.
But when Alethea suddenly finds herself cast out on the streets of London, a long road to Derbyshire lies ahead of her. Militias have closed their boroughs off to outsiders for fear of contamination. Fortune smiles on her when Jack appears, an unlikely travelling companion who helps this determined country girl to navigate a perilous new world of religious dissenters, charlatans and a pestilence that afflicts peasants and lords alike.
Thanks to NetGalley and Duckworth Books for the advanced reader copy of Abby Abney’s book The Master of Measham Hall.
I felt this book had such great promise but fell short in some areas.
The main character of Alethea was well fleshed out and she stood as her own character, but I felt a lot of the other characters could have been a bit more well-rounded with their history delved into a bit more. It would have allowed me to feel slightly more compassion for the secondary characters.
I did think that the clever part of the book was as to the identity of “the master” of Measham hall. At the start, I assume we’re led to believe it is the Mr Calverton who Alethea is staying with; we then realise that she comes from Measham hall, so maybe the master is her father, or bother. But we soon start to learn that perhaps she is in fact the master of her childhood estate, and the master of her own life – an opportunity not many women got in the 17th century.
Abby does have a very good hand for description so you can place yourself in Alethea’s shoes, and you can feel the horror of the plague around them, not unlike the pandemic we’re experiencing now, although hopefully not to the same devastating extent.
I found the first half of the novel rather slow, with not much going on and a lot of repetition, but then come the second half, so much was going on that it felt a little rushed. I also felt it ended quite abruptly, which I’m hoping is because of a potential sequel, as I think there’s a lot of other stories that could be explored further.
Overall I don’t think it holds up to a lot of other historical fictions I have read, but as a debut novel, I think it has promise. One night touch I liked was that instead of simply picking any old fictional house to write about, Abby wrote about her own ancestors (albeit in a fictionalised way – or so we assume). Having said all that, I can really see it being picked up as a new BBC period costume drama.