House of Secrets
This is the first book in a trilogy about the lives of servants and masters at a great house, Swallowcliffe Hall, from Victorian times until the Second World War. It’s set in the late 19th century and follows the fortunes of Polly Perkins, a 14-year-old girl from a very poor family who finds work as a maid at the Hall. There she gets to know the other servants, and also interacts in a limited way with the family, becoming a confidante of the youngest daughter of the house, who is about her own age. She gets into various troubles through her spontaneity and ignorance of how to behave in the self-effacing way expected of a servant. At one point she is almost dismissed but her resourcefulness and courage win her a reprieve. However she is unable to prevent the tragic events that lie at the heart of the story.
Each chapter is headed with a quote from one of a variety of Victorian books on the duties and management of servants. These are entertaining and also point up the difference between then and now. This is a first person narrative, and Polly’s voice, with its rather staid asides to the reader and use of homely aphorisms, rings very true. All the characters are rounded and convincing, and although there are few real surprises the story is gripping because of the emotional dilemmas involved. Jennie Walters has created a well-researched and warm-hearted story with several interesting plot developments to carry forward to the sequels.