Once again, I appear to have chosen historical fiction that’s earned itself a place on my ‘best of 2022’ goodreads shelf.
Maggie Richell-Davies should never doubt her ability to spin a good yarn, The Servant had me hooked from the very first chapter.
Maggie contacted me on Twitter asking if I would be interested in reading her novel, and on reading the synopsis, I had a feeling it would be the kind of story I’d enjoy.
Disgraced aristocracy, a house full of mysteries; including a locked library, the main character being able to secretly read and write, and characters so vile and despicably realistic, I wanted to shout and swear at them! What’s not to love when a story gives you all the ‘feels’.
The Servant reminded me in many ways of Michel Fabers’ The Crimson Petal and the White, a firm favourite of mine. The foulness and stench of the setting, the superbly immersive writing, the crass language. So much research went into this creative masterpiece. I’ve learnt so much, having to look up words throughout, all adding to my enjoyment. To be both educated and entertained whilst experiencing an author’s imaginative story-telling is essential to the reading experience. It was the most memorable history lesson.
From the description of what people were wearing, to intricate detail of the furnishings, The Servant ticked every box. I couldn’t fault it.
‘The Chinese cabinet is the thing I admire the most in that room because of the figures in strange costumes inlaid in the black lacquered wood. There is a river with two people on a hump-backed bridge, lovers perhaps, picked out in mother-of-pearl. A willow weeps from the sloping shore, with a building that might be a temple in the distance and a long-legged bird circling above. The lady holds a curious-looking umbrella and the couple look to be whispering beneath it. I would love to know their story’.
How clear is that piece of furniture in your minds eye from that perfect description?
The reactions of characters had me smiling, laughing, and visualising with ease.
‘Perhaps she was a beauty in her youth, before her face turned to porridge’.
The way the opinions, thoughts and situations related to present day rang true throughout.
‘The rich get away with everything. Peg mutters, at my shoulder. Always have. Always will’.
‘…although she is unkempt and dirty, I welcome her friendship. It seems to me sometimes that it is often the poor who are the most generous with what they have’.
As I reluctantly came to the end of the story, (I took my time, taking two weeks to finish as I loved it too much to let it go so soon!) the ‘End Note’ was simply the icing on this glorious historical cake. When an author takes time to explain their story, and it’s roots, it gives the reader more understanding and a bit of closure. I needed it because I was sad to see Hannah, Peg and Thomas go.
The Historical Writers Association (HWA) selected The Servant for their HWA/Sharpe Books Unpublished Novel Award 2020. It was completely deserving of this accolade and I’m hoping somebody, somewhere will take this gem of a novel under their wing and create a tv adaptation or film – I’d watch with relish!
The Servant is an astonishing story of one woman’s steely determination. Do add it to your TBR piles, make a ‘Beat The Backlog’ exception for this one, because it is EXCEPTIONAL historical fiction. I will be recommending it to everyone.
Thank you, Maggie, for sending me a copy to review. It was a beautiful, dark pleasure.