Book Review: A Pearl for my Mistress by Annabel Fielding

I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for A Pearl for my Mistress by Annabel Fielding and to share my review of this compelling historical novel set in the turbulent years of the 1930s.

APearlForMyMistressAbout the Book

England, 1934. Hester Blake, an ambitious girl from an industrial Northern town, finds a job as a lady’s maid in a small aristocratic household. Despite their impressive title and glorious past, the Fitzmartins are crumbling under the pressures of the new century. And in the cold isolation of these new surroundings, Hester ends up hopelessly besotted with her young mistress, Lady Lucy. Accompanying Lucy on her London Season, Hester is plunged into a heady and decadent world. But hushed whispers of another war swirl beneath the capital… and soon, Hester finds herself the keeper of some of society’s most dangerous secrets…

Format: eBook (384 pp.)                 Publisher: HQ Digital
Published: 9th August 2017            Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

A Pearl for my Mistress is the story of the intense relationship between two women from very different social backgrounds – Lady Lucy Fitzmartin and Hester Blake, her lady’s maid. However, the book also immerses the reader in the turbulent political situation of the 1930s, with the rise of pro-Fascist organisations like that led by Sir Oswald Mosley and other pro-German movements.

Lady Lucy’s life is one of relative privilege but constrained by the social norms of the day and the limitations on her freedom imposed by her parents. She desperately wants to break free of these confines, exert her independence and make a name for herself. Misguided sympathy for the aims of Mosley’s movement and her talent for writing, provide her with the possibility of achieving her ambitions. Lucy has also become adept at listening from the shadows, picking up nuggets of conversation and information. As the story unfolds, the reader sees that her desperation for freedom makes her ripe for manipulation by others who have few qualms about how to achieve their aims. Having started down a path, Lucy finds herself having to face hard and unwelcome moral choices. Indeed, one of the many interesting themes the book explores is what people will do and who and what they will betray in order to protect themselves.

Although Hester does not share her mistress’s political views, her loyalty and love for Lady Lucy find her conflicted, especially when events threaten to come close to home. Having been central to the book initially as her relationship with Lady Lucy develops, Hester does recede into the background in the latter part of the book.

A theme of the book I found really interesting was its exploration of the power of words to inspire, persuade and, yes, even manipulate.

Words had colours, even textures, and she could faintly sense it, rolling them around in her thoughts. Some words were soft and languid, like silk. Some clinked, like iron. Some were fresh and crisp, like green apples. It was a trick of which words to use to invoke, for example, elegance and dream, or fire and iron.’

In fact, stories and writing play an important part in the development of the relationship between Lucy and Hester. Having had to keep her writing secret, Lucy finally has someone she can share it with. Lucy’s stories are her gift to Hester and Hester’s appreciation of them is her gift to Lucy.

‘The tale caught her in its grip, like a pot of honey could catch a careless fly. The longer she read, the more she was beguiled by the sweetness of the passages, the lushness of the sentences, the tribulations of the plot. It was as if the mere lines in front of her eyes, black ink on white paper, were transfiguring into something else.’

Later, Lucy’s writing ability becomes a possible route to independence for her but also a valuable asset for those seeking to advance the aims of the National Socialist government in Germany. So, she learns, is her position in society and her ear for gossip and information. The cold, hard truth of the art (science?) of manipulating people in positions of influence is revealed.

“‘What can we give him that he craves? A sense of belonging? A sense of rebellion? A sense of doing justice? A dream of glory? A dream of peace? Protection of his commercial interests on the Continent? It’s important to unearth these needs, these reasons. Then you can do anything.”

The author creates a really believable picture of the period which is clearly based on considerable research. There are walk-on parts for many of the key personalities of the period: politicians, the nobility, society hostesses and diplomats. I found the political machinations behind the scenes and some of the views expressed by those in the pro-Fascist movements positively chilling and, at times, worryingly reminiscent of contemporary debates around discrimination, migration and ‘fake news’.

I really enjoyed A Pearl for my Mistress and thought it a compelling and accomplished debut by a clearly talented author.  I received a review copy courtesy of the author and publishers, HQ Digital, in return for an honest and unbiased review.

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In three words: Compelling, intimate, well-researched

Try something similar…Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

AnnabelFieldingAbout the Author

Annabel Fielding describes herself as ‘a novelist, a history geek and an international woman of mystery’. She has long since pledged her allegiance to travel, tea and books. A Pearl for my Mistress is her debut novel.

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