Maid of Oaklands Manor
It is a turbulent time in England. The Boer War has just ended; the Titanic has gone down; Suffragettes are marching and going to jail; the world is on the brink of the disaster of World War I. In the midst of this, young Mary Elizabeth Parker (Lizzie) takes up a position as scullery maid at Oaklands Manor, home to the prominent Cresswell family.
A chance meeting between Lizzie and Evangeline Cresswell, the young heiress, will change Lizzie’s life forever. She becomes embroiled in robbery and espionage, and soon finds herself in the arms of the mysterious Jack Carlisle. Is Jack what he seems to be or is his dark past a threat to Lizzie and those she has come to love?
Theme of the Book
Maid of Oaklands Manor paints a picture of a long-gone world where class differences limited ambitions and where danger lurked in the most unexpected places. It is a story of greed and passion, of love and adventure.
What I Liked About the Story
As a great fan of Downton Abbey, I appreciated the care with Ms. Nixon portrayed life in a great house at the beginning of the 20th century. She defines the vast gulf between the family and the staff of servants without making any of her characters cartoonish. Though the novel most clearly describes the daughter of the house, Evie, and the maids and kitchen staff, all of the characters are recognizably people who could have lived in such a house. The life of drudgery of the lower servants and the life of luxury of the family could not have been better contrasted.
The first half of the novel focuses on Lizzie, her relationships with the other servants and her growing friendship with Evie. At first, the reader meets Lizzie as young, inexperienced, and afraid to make mistakes. However, as time goes on, both her confidence and her closeness to Evie grow, letting the reader see Lizzie mature and develop as a person.
In this first section, Lizzie also meets Jack Carlisle, a close friend of the Cresswell family, and the romance begins to blossom between them.
The novel changes completely in the second half. From a standard romance, Ms. Nixon develops a tale of espionage and mystery. There is a theft which will upend expectations. There is the secretive life of Jack and the questions around the death of Evie’s father. Ms. Nixon invokes the tragedy of World War I with its loss of life and its devastation to those who survive. While the romantic element remains, it takes a back seat to the intrigue surrounding Jack.
Maid of Oaklands Manor is generally well-written and fast-paced. Despite the fact that several years pass during the story, the reader never feels lost or confused.
What I Didn’t Like About the Story
Anyone who has watched the first season of Downton Abbey will recognize the plot points in the first half of the novel. Evie is the embodiment of Lady Sybil. She is something of a rebel and a disappointment to her mother. There is an echo of Mr. Bates’ legal troubles and even an inappropriate romance. While this was wonderful in Downton Abbey, it was something of a let-down to see the same plot points repeated in Maid of Oaklands Manor.
The more intimate scenes between Lizzie and Jack, while expected, seemed repetitive to me. I found myself skipping yet another description of Lizzie’s reaction to Jack’s touch or kiss.
The descriptions of some parts of the plot could have been edited for length. The trial especially seemed to go on and on for no particular purpose.
Finally, the last section of the story dealing with Jack’s real occupation was confusing. Up to that point, the story had been clear and easy to follow. Once the final action scenes started, I had to keep flipping back to follow the storyline.
This is a novel that will certainly keep the reader turning pages to see what happens next. Fans of romance will enjoy the whole book while fans of thrillers and espionage will appreciate the second half.