Friday, July 16, 2021

BOOK REVIEW: The Master of Measham Hall by Anna Abney

 I received this book for free from Netgalley. That did not influence this review.

The Master of Measham Hall by Anna Abney is a newly-released historical novel set in England during the Restoration. (The novel starts in 1665.)

The heroine is a young Catholic gentlewoman, Alethea, sent to London by her stepmother to serve as a a companion to another family. Mainly, the stepmother wanted to be rid of her so her own children would be heirs. Alethea’s beloved older brother, William, had been exiled to France after he killed a man in a duel. Her father is a distant figure. Alethea is quite alone.

In these difficult times (religious persecution and plague), Alethea has to downplay or hide her Catholicism, a fact that doesn’t bother her except when she thinks of her devout, deceased mother.

The woman Alethea is staying with in London (Lady Culverton) takes against her when the man of the house (Lord Culverton) seems to be taking too much interest in her. Alethea is sent off on a fool’s errand while the rest of the household escapes to the countryside to get away from the plague. Clearly, the woman intended Alethea would die. She does not.

Instead, she decides to walk back home to her family estate, Measham Hall, convinced her father, at least, will welcome her.

It’s not a very safe plan and she is almost instantly attacked, but she is rescued by a lowborn, independent-minded man named Jack, who is also walking away from London. They end up in the forest, taken in by a small group of religious dissenters. Alethea adapts quickly, dropping her religion in exchange for theirs, primarily because of their charismatic leader, Samuel.

When this life is disrupted, she begins her trek home anew, this time accompanied by one of the young women from the group. Along the way, Alethea learns her entire nuclear family died from the plague except William, who is still missing. She decides that rather than present herself at the estate, she will impersonate her missing brother, in order to avoid being shunted aside by more distant relatives eager to claim the property.

The novel presents the debates over religion in the Restoration period in an interesting way, allowing Alethea to adopt different beliefs as she goes along, internally and sometimes externally debating the issues. However, in religion, as in pretty much all aspects of her life, Alethea is fickle, adopting whatever beliefs and actions are most convenient at the time, allowing her to get what she wants. She doesn’t have strong convictions and her main moral guide seems to be Machiavelli, whose teachings she reads about in a book gifted to her by Lord Culverton.

Alethea is a sympathetic character at first. She is kind and means well but is almost painfully naive in the ways of the world and suffers for it. However, over time, she learns how the world works and is happy to shed principles in order to arrange things to her liking. She becomes less and less likeable as the story progresses. It’s interesting to watch her transformation and the novel is satisfying as a character study, even though the plot is a bit slow and, in parts, a bit far-fetched. 

1 comment:

  1. It's interesting the author chose to highlight normal, not royal, people in this era. I haven't seen any books like this before and it sounds fantastic. Another book for the truth list.