Strengths: Really warm, feel good novel.
Weaknesses: I wouldn’t say it was like Downton Abbey – it’s not the Upstairs Downstairs novel.
Why I read it: I’m a sucker for a sticker that reads ‘perfect for fans of Downton Abbey‘
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
I first became intrigued with this book when it was released shortly before Christmas last year, at the height of Downton Abbey mania in Australia. What Downton fan wouldn’t be immediately interested in a book that proclaimed that it was just perfect for them? Before you click ‘buy’, please let me tell you that this is not an upstairs/downstairs drama focusing on the community of one ‘great’ house.
Oh no. It’s so much more than that. That’s where I think people looking for Downton-in-a-book will be disappointed at being misled, so please stop comparing them. Netherwood is more than able to stand on its own two feet and make the claim of being warm, funny, heart wrenching yet lovable.
Also, Netherwood is the title of the grand house that sits over the Yorkshire village. Eve is our protagonist of the book, the husband of a coal miner. The mine provides work for the surrounding villages and most of its residents live almost hand to mouth while the rich live it up away from town. When a tragedy hits Eve, she is forced to think of a way to keep her little family fed and safe. With the help of Anna, a Russian immigrant, Eve starts baking pies which achieve her fame that she would never have dreamed of. She captures the attention of the Lord, who has his own problems with a troublesome son and a forward daughter…
It’s the warmth and can-do spirit of Eve that really puts this book in a league beyond your average historical fiction. Eve is feisty yet realistic, positive yet fallible. She takes things on the chin and strives to be the best she can, which results in the reader cheering her on. The supporting characters are also funny yet flawed, such as Anna and her English, Tobias – son of the Lord, yet a cad who just might have a heart and Lord Hoyland, who knows things are turning sour but is trying to right things in his own fashion.
This book did take me a little while to get into, but I think that was because I was sulkily expecting Downton Abbey. Once I fell in love with Eve’s determination, that was it. I simply couldn’t put this book down. Between the calamities that befall various characters, it really is quite optimistic – some would say things go a little too well for Eve. The setting isn’t highly detailed – you’ll be disappointed if you’re looking for extended historical descriptions – but it’s a relaxed read where the story just gathers you up.
A sequel, Ravenscliffe, was released last week – you can buy it here. I’m planning to read it over the Christmas break to see how tensions between the characters develop further in big, greedy chunks. I know it won’t disappoint!