Maggie Richell-Davies took part in my Author Spotlight at the end of June (you can read that here). She kindly sent me a copy of the book, The Servant, for review but I didn’t have time to read it until recently. I am pleased to share my review today.
About the book
Young Hannah Hubert may be the granddaughter of a French merchant and the daughter of a Spitalfields silk weaver, but she has come down in the world.
Sent one spring day as maidservant to a disgraced aristocrat, she finds herself in a house full of mysteries – with a locked room and strange auctions being held behind closed doors.
As a servant, she has little power but – unknown to her employers – she can read. And it is only when she uses her education to uncover the secrets of the house, that she realises the peril she is in.
Hannah is unable to turn to the other servant, Peg, who is clearly terrified of their employers and keeps warning her to find alternative work.
But help might come from Thomas, the taciturn farmer delivering milk to the neighbourhood, or from Jack Twyford, a friendly young man apprenticed to his uncle’s bookselling business. Yet Thomas is still grieving for his late wife – and can she trust Jack, since his uncle is one of her master’s associates?
Hannah soon discovers damning evidence she cannot ignore.
She must act alone, but at what price?
Maidservant Hannah Hubert really does go through the most appalling times over the course of this novel. When we first meet her she’s beginning a new position in the home of a aristocrat and his wife and what an evil pair they are. Hannah is an intelligent girl who soon uncovers what is going on in their household, knowledge which puts her in danger. It’s hard to remember at times that she’s just a teenager, only 15, as she seems quite worldly wise for her years. She’s learned how to read in a previous position and also learned that it’s sometimes safest to keep quiet about that.
Maggie Richell-Davies clearly shows the contrasts between rich and poor in 18th century London, not just in terms of wealth and lifestyle but also opportunities available to them and the way they are perceived. She brings vividly to life the horrendous living conditions of the poor and how they were utterly at the mercy of those supposedly above them in society. My heart went out to poor Hannah when she lost her job through no fault of her own and reading about the living conditions she then had to endure. Thankfully she had a few people looking out for her, notably kind-hearted Nellie, and Peg who was her eyes in her previous employers’ house.
While I was reading about Hannah and so invested in what was happening to her, I sometimes forgot there was a crime element to the book too. What she uncovered was quite awful and it seemed she would never be able to get anyone to believe her. It really made clear the helplessness of the so-called underclasses in all aspects of life. I really hoped that Hannah would find safety, contentment and happiness. Realistically though, a woman in her position had little chance of aiming for more than survival.
The Servant is obviously well researched, with the author weaving the facts of everyday life in this period into her story making it feel like a very authentic representation of 18th century life. For all the bleakness of Hannah’s life, there are brighter moments too with friendships and unexpected kindnesses offering some hope to her. It is particularly poignant to read from the author’s note at the end that at least part of Hannah’s experiences were inspired by true happenings. The Servant is an engaging and touching novel, recommended for readers who enjoy historical fiction featuring strong women.
The Servant is published in paperback and ebook.
You can order a copy here: The Servant
About the Author
Winner of the Historical Writers’ Award 2020 Unpublished Novel Award with The Servant, Maggie was born on the North-East coast of England and has a first-class honours degree from the Open University.
Her page-turning thriller was inspired by a visit to London’s Foundling Hospital Museum – with its heart-breaking stories about the tokens desperate women left there in the hope that they might, one day, be able to reclaim their child – and research into the exploitation of women and girls in 18th century London.
Details of how she came to write Hannah’s story are on her website, below.
Maggie has had short stories published and been shortlisted for Bridport Flash and the Olga Sinclair and Joan Hessayon Awards. She is a member of the Historical Writers’ Association and of the Romantic Novelists’ Association.
She lives in Royal Tunbridge Wells with husband, Mike, but also worked for a number of years in Peru, Africa and the United States.
Writing Group: ninevoices.wordpress.com