Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Countess Below Stairs

by Eva Ibbotson

I don't know if I've made any snide remarks about romance novels here in this blog, but I'm pretty sure I haven't fully and openly mocked them — at least, I hope I haven't, because I have a confession to make...

When I was in middle school, I used to sneak into my sister's room so I could borrow her Sweet Valley High books. I've read almost all of the Princess Diaries books (and there's a lot of them). I've read (and enjoyed) Angus, Thongs and Full-frontal Snogging (and two of its sequels); Meagan Meade's Guide to the McGowan Boys (and wished it had a sequel); I Capture the Castle (even though, or perhaps because I'd already seen the movie); and I especially loved Victoria and the Rogue, from the Avon True Teen Romance series. Romantic comedies are well-represented in my Netflix queue. (I've also read quite a few Victorian novels — Austen, various Brontes, Hardy, Eliot — many of which involve romance, but they have history on their side and aren't as embarrassing.)

So imagine my (sort of secret, barely concealed) joy when I came upon this book, in which a young Russian countess flees the revolution and, having been forced to abandon all her wealth and possessions, finds work as a lowly chambermaid on an English estate... I shouldn't have to add that, of course, the estate's dashing young master returns from abroad and discovers a stunningly beautiful and shockingly well-educated young woman has joined his staff.... (Now that I've written staff I really must let you finish the thought yourself.)

Actually, everyone is quite chaste, moonlit skinny-dipping (and accidental skinny-watching) notwithstanding. All in all I really liked this book, for what it is. It isn't spectacular in any way, but it's a very good example of the genre, and, to it's credit, the plot owes more to the likes of Austen than to the more modern Harlequin formula.

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