The Maid of Fairbourne Hall by Julie Klassen

  • The Maid of Fairbourne Hall by Julie KlassenTitle: The Maid of Fairbourne Hall
  • Author: Julie Klassen
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Inspirational, Historical
  • Publisher: Bethany House, January 2012
  • Purchase: Amazon, $8.99
  • Tropes: Disguised as a Servant, Reunited, Pirates
  • Quick blurb: Rich girl fleeing icky arranged marriage hides out as a housemaid in former suitor’s home.
  • Quick review: A valiant, yet ultimately unsuccessful, attempt at a predictable plot.
  • Grade: C

I’m not one for the fangirl “OMG YOU HAVE TO READ THIS” stuff, but Julie Klassen’s books have tempted me to engage in some literary peer pressure. “It’s not a preachy inspirational, trust me!”

I was drawn to her books by the intriguing titles, beautiful covers and well-written blurbs, and all four of her previous novels exceeded my expectations. I’ve read them all several times, and I still can’t decide between The Silent Governess and The Apothecary’s Daughter for my DIK list.

I had The Maid of Fairbourne Hall on my “yay coming soon!!!” wishlist for months and bought it the day it came out. But then it lingered in Mount TBR for another few months because, oddly enough, I was afraid I wouldn’t like it. I call it “Book Anxiety,” which I may write an essay or treatise about sometime.

ANYWAY, I’m not sure if it was the title, the blurb or the cover that made me anxious….

Pampered Margaret Macy flees London in disguise to escape pressure to marry a dishonorable man. With no money and nowhere else to go, she takes a position as a housemaid in the home of Nathaniel Upchurch, a suitor she once rejected in hopes of winning his dashing brother. Praying no one will recognize her, Margaret fumbles through the first real work of her life. If she can last until her next birthday, she will gain an inheritance from a spinster aunt—and sweet independence. But can she remain hidden as a servant even when prying eyes visit Fairbourne Hall?

Observing both brothers as an “invisible” servant, Margaret learns she may have misjudged Nathaniel. Is it too late to rekindle his admiration? And when one of the family is nearly killed, Margaret alone discovers who was responsible. Should she come forward, even at the risk of her reputation and perhaps her life? And can she avoid an obvious trap meant to force her from hiding?

On her journey from well-born lady to servant to uncertain future, Margaret must learn to look past appearances and find the true meaning of “serve one another in love.”

I did a mental “huh?” double-take when I saw the “disguised as a servant” trope, and after reading – well, score one for the Book Anxiety.

The plot….

There’s a big drawback to being an obsessive reader (of any genre, not just romance), in that predictable plots begin to make themselves known earlier and more often. As I was reading The Maid of Fairbourne Hall, I found myself shaking my head and even rolling my eyes a few times. And that’s never happened with a Klassen book before.

All of Klassen’s books feature conflicted heroines hiding – literally or metaphorically – from their families. Unlike the unique and compelling premises of her previous novels, however, this one fell flat. It takes a LOT of creativity to make this particular premise work successfully, and unfortunately Klassen couldn’t pull it off.

The main characters….

Nathaniel was a decent beta hero – not quite swoon-worthy, but likeable enough for me to root for his HEA.

Margaret, on the other hand, I found to be almost unlikeable, nearly to the point where I didn’t feel she deserved her HEA. Her transformation from spoiled debutante to socially-conscious servant seemed too easy and superficial. She just can’t compare to other Klassen’s previous smart, brave and compelling heroines.

Now let me tell you what I REALLY think….

For me, the biggest deficit was the lack of dramatic tension. I needed a stronger sense of danger to justify Margaret running away, and a MUCH stronger sense of attraction between Margaret and Nathaniel to feel a sustained emotional connection between them.

I had to deduct one grade for the eye-rolling Very Convenient Coincidence of Margaret/Nora being hired in her former suitor’s house, and the random and completely unnecessary “poet/pirate” plot diversion.

I also had to knock it down from a C+ to a C for that creepy cover photo (what is wrong with her eyes???). If I wasn’t already a Klassen fan, that cover would NEVER have drawn me in and convinced me this book was worth spending $10. I hate the model’s pose and facial expression, and there’s a weird sort of Bad Photoshop thing that’s really unusual for Bethany House books.

However, I still love Klassen’s writing style, especially the sense of history and atmosphere she conveys. I also enjoyed the sub-plot with Helen and Hudson – I think THEIR story would have been much more romantic and inspirational.

Now I need to go type up my rave reviews for all her other books so I won’t feel so guilty for not loving this one.

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