Friday, July 7, 2023

The Secrets of Ashmore Castle by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles (Book One of the Ashmore Castle Series)


Publication Date: August 30, 2022

Length: 526 pages

Cynthia Harrod-Eagles has an extensive collection of works and seems to be historically accurate so I wanted to give this series a try. Also, it is set during a time and place that I love with a Downton Abbey feel. I am definitely a fan of series books, so knowing if I liked it there would be more was a plus.

In the year 1901, Giles Stainton is happily living his life in Egypt, working among the archaeological ruins and far away from the family drama back in England. The son of an Earl, Giles has no wish to return anytime soon but when his father is unexpectedly killed in a hunting accident, he knows he must return to the family estate to take up the running of it and all the drama that goes with it. Upon his arrival he soon becomes aware that his father has not managed the money well and the home and its surroundings are in danger of being lost. Giles tries to find a way to salvage things but eventually comes to the conclusion that the only way forward is to find an heiress to marry who also possesses a large enough income to save the Stainton heritage. 

Meanwhile, the servants below stairs are dealing with their own issues. Newly arrived sewing maid Dory is tormented by the arrogant, ambitious footman, James, who fancies himself for grander things. She must work to fit in with all the many personalities she encounters and to not lose hope that she will be able to find her place in the intimidating world of serving a prominent family in style.

In addition to the family home, Giles has two sisters to look after and a wayward brother, Richard who returns to stay and help him run things. His newly widowed mother expects him to be practical and marry for the good of the family and his prospects seem to be many as the new "coming out" season is approaching with several promising debutantes. As Giles meets the young ladies he is introduced to two in particular, Kitty and Nina, who catch his attention. Nina he finds especially interesting but learns early on that she is not in fact an heiress with money but a companion of Kitty's, the one with the real income. Giles must decide if he can put aside his apathy for marrying anyone to fulfill his duties. 

The storyline in this book is minimal and from what I gathered it was really to set up the main characters and their roles in order to continue with the coming books. I felt like there was definite substance there though because you really got some insight into the thoughts and motivations behind the characters and their actions. As an example, there is a moment beautifully described in which Giles's sister Alice spends time with an unlikely love interest and the slow unfolding of their budding feelings is told in great detail. I came away from that chapter really feeling and seeing their surroundings in the countryside and the differences in their class as a barrier between them. So even though there wasn't a lot of action per see it was a deeper meaning that came through.

If you are looking for a book that wraps things up neatly in the end and then continues on with the next, new phase this probably isn't the book for that. But if you enjoy beginning the first of a series in which you become invested in the people and want to know what becomes of them you will enjoy reading this as a starting point and continuing with the following two books. Book three is out in August and I featured it on this week's Can't Wait Wednesday

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