Quick, light read
SIXTEEN-year old Charlotte Edmonds is beautiful, wealthy and sheltered. Janie Seward is the cook’s daughter, and a kitchen maid. Somehow, against all odds, their lives intertwine and they become friends, as long-kept secrets are revealed and rules are broken.
Cross Downton Abbey (or any Jane Austen novel) with Gossip Girl (or any teen drama), and you get Katherine Longshore’s Manor Of Secrets. Despite the mystery-inducing name, the manor isn’t (unfortunately) one of secrets. It’s instead a much lighter read than the title suggests.
The novel starts out pretty well, with Charlotte and Janie going about their daily lives and hiding their unhappiness. Charlotte yearns to be free to live a life of adventure, secretly scribbling her dreams down. Janie, on the other hand, wants things to stay the same but feels despondently that they won’t.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, Longshore tries to do too much in a fairly short novel, and the result is a slightly messy, off-kilter story.
One of my biggest peeves about the novel is the erratic way Longshore writes her characters. Despite being the protagonists, Charlotte and Janie are rather awkward and stilted. Their relationship seems to evolve a bit too quickly to be believed, with Charlotte mispronouncing Janie’s name one day, only to declare that she “loves Janie like a sister” just a few days later.
Similarly, Charlotte’s best friend Frances is painted as a selfish, shallow aristocrat for most of the book, only wanting to have an advantageous marriage and to ensure that Janie knows her place. But towards the end of the book, she suddenly becomes someone who was only trying to be a good friend.
And though Charlotte’s mother, Lady Diane, seems to exert a strong influence over Charlotte, she is wooden and one-dimensional. It is only at the very end of the book that a glimmer of the person inside is expressed, which is a shame, as she could have been a very complex and interesting character if fleshed out.
A nice surprise is the character of Andrew Broadhurst, the would-be Earl of Ashdown and Charlotte’s suitor. He is initially written (and described) as a rather boring individual, possessing none of the charm and flair that Charlotte longs for (and seems to find in the handsome and womanizing footman, Lawrence), but it quickly becomes apparent that there is more beneath the surface, which is great. Andrew becomes the most likeable character in the book – kind, honest, loyal, and someone with a sense of humour.
The mysterious secret doesn’t remain much of a secret after Lady Diane’s sister, Lady Beatrice, appears. This would have been fine if the lead-up to the big reveal had been done differently. Instead, there is no real anticipation of what the secret could be because this plotline becomes a little lost among Charlotte’s imagined love for Lawrence, and Janie’s worry whether her mother would leave the manor – so when the secret is finally revealed, it feels a little anti-climactic.
Despite these issues, the book itself is not too bad. Longshore does a fairly good job of setting the historical scene, and the role of each character – be it lofty aristocrat or lowly servant – is written quite well even if the characters themselves are a little flat. The upheaval following the reveal of the secret, from Lady Diane’s breakdown to the reactions of the staff members, is one of the best parts of the book.
Fans of romantic historical fiction will find Manor Of Secrets a quick, light read, despite the “heavy” name. And if you’re looking to get your feet wet in the historical romance / young adult (since Charlotte and Janie are only 16) genre, or if you’re looking for an easy read, Manor Of Secrets just might be your cup of tea.