Magical is one word I’ve heard to describe Eva Ibbotson’s The Countess Below Stairs and the reviewers who used it were right. While the storyline is predictable and some of the characters cliché and 2-dimensional, this story still manages to sprinkle a little bit of fairy-tale dust into the pages.
When Rupert, finally recovered from his battle wounds and newly engaged, comes home to take over the position of master of the family estate, he discoves himself intrigued by the new house-maid, Anna. Displaced Russian royalty – a duchess to be exact – Anna is not at all accustomed to the duties of the working class in England. But armed with her precious book on house-keeping, she’s determined to support herself and her refugee family. Stubborn, spirited and always the lady, Anna manages to make herself essential and liked by all the staff. And there’s a spark of something between Anna and Rupert from the first moment they meet. A spark of something that quickly blossoms into love, but alas, Rupert is engaged to the beautiful (and rich) Muriel. How can things ever work out for them?
Okay – so it’s one of the most clichéd storylines. Girl meets guy, they fall for each other, but can never be together because of insurmountable difficulties (usually in the form of money or lack thereof or a boyfriend or girlfriend who is already in the picture), only to discover those insurmountable difficulties aren’t really so insolvable after all. 😉 And yes, this book is exactly that: predictable, clichéd and sappy. But it’s also adorable, dappled with humor and positively fairy-tale-ish without the magic and godmothers. If you’re looking for a fun read for a lazy afternoon when you don’t want the unpredictable, this just might be your cup of tea.
PS – The ball scene? Just utterly magical.