You’re on holiday and if you have time to kickstart your reading again, I have the book for you! I was given The Secret Countess by Eva Ibbotson as a teenager and just couldn’t get into it. It is now six years later and the opposite has happened– I have read it all in just two afternoons!
The Secret Countess is a wonderfully fast-paced book that can (evidently) get anyone out of a reading slump. Set just after World War One, the protagonist, Russian Countess Anna, fears she has been betrayed by her housemaid who lost all her jewels and heads, with her nanny and mother, to England where she begins work as a maid for an Earl.
Every setting in The Secret Countess, be it present or flashback, is beautifully described by Ibbotson and the character building is (mostly) great. The narrative is third person and the plot moves quickly, regularly swapping between characters and stories which is great and adds suspense as the families move in closer circles than they think. That being said, it is incredibly difficult to relate to protagonists who are written to be perfect so the author has, reading the reviews of this book, alienated a few readers that way! I wasn’t attached to Anna’s character much either but did find the story enough in itself to keep me reading.
The blurb of The Secret Countess suggests this is a love story but I actually didn’t really notice the development of the romance between the two characters and thought it could have been more. The information about the war and the insight into eugenics was also interesting and added dimension to the book. I love reading about protagonists from different countries so this was as magical as any other.
To summarise; The Secret Countess was wonderfully written, all settings were magical to imagine and the characters were varied and interesting. The repetition of the protagonist being a perfect flame grew tiresome, but the plot itself is intricate and unique. It’s a really great quick read for anyone looking for something a bit different!