This is the first installment of the Mill Valley Girls family saga set in the late 19th and early 20th century in England. Though it stands alone, this novel relies heavily on the summary of events that took place before the opening scene of the book, which often overshadows the plot of the current story. Ella, the titular character, is a witness to much change and turmoil in the lives of other people, but her own picaresque journey is one of intermittent hardship, little romance, and service. Starting as a mill worker in her girlhood, Ella enters service for a local family until a random meeting on the road with a rich gentleman lands her in service at a grand estate. There she lives out most of her days, caring for the son of the family, and sometimes returning home to the countryside to visit her mother and siblings.
The meandering account of life in the lower classes pre- and post-WWI lacks vivid scenes that might endear Ella’s hardships to the reader, but instead it feels like a litany of never-ending chores. The reader is left to wonder if this ever turns into a Cinderella story, where the opening difficulties are redeemed by good fortune in the end. Alas, there is no thread to connect the events or the characters, and plot points are often sprung on the reader to such a degree that it makes the storyline difficult to believe.