Following the family's financial downfall, Abigail Foster has begun to shoulder much of the responsibility that should have been shared by her father and mother. Meanwhile her younger sister, Louisa is set on having her "coming out" and "season," totally denying that the family cannot afford such luxuries. Really there is little choice, but to allow Louisa to do so, for how else could she catch a husband. Certainly someone will be attracted by her beauty and will be able to overlook that her dowry has suddenly shrunken. When a distant and anonymous relative contacts the family about taking up residence at Pembrooke Park, a rural estate that has been mysteriously abandoned for two decades, Abigail encourages her father to investigate. Within weeks, Abigail finds herself alone at the estate, while her father ties up the sale of their London home, and her sister and mother remain in the city for the social season. A bare bones staff has been hired, but not all seem friendly, and soon Abigail feels that the property holds more secrets than just the one about its abrupt abandonment. Then strange letters begin to arrive almost daily. Each includes a page from a diary obviously written years ago by a child. Meanwhile Abigail finds herself making friends with the former steward of the property, Gus Chapman; his adult son, currently the local church's curate (pastor); and his sister Leah. Abigail is intrigued by Leah's sheltered, nervous demeanor but it is Curate William's good looks and happy personality that catches most of her thoughts. Then the budding attraction is stalled by the strange, unannounced arrival of Miles Pembrooke, son to the last Pembrooke to live at the estate. His secretive past, along with a warming to not allow any Pembrooke on the estate, delivered in a recent letter, puts Abigail on edge. Soon a former childhood friend (and hopeful suitor) shows up, followed by sister Louisa, who like the beautiful sister in most novels, seems intent on taking away anyone Abigail cares about.
On her website, Klassen says she is writing for all those Regency romance lovers who could not get enough Jane Austen. In fact, Austen's works are referenced several times in the book, and there is even a female author within the story who writes her own romances under a false name. Personally, I had a strange reading experience with this 458 page novel. First, it took me over 175 pages to get into the story. I senses the typical Gothic plot developing, and while I had not figured out the mysterious secrets of Pembrooke Place, I was not getting pulled into the suspense. Then suddenly I was and I read quite fast. The next time I sat down to read, my interest lulled again, but I did want to finish the book. I felt Klassen had written a good story and I was surprised at my slow pace Last night I had one of those sleepless nights and finally got up at 1:00, grabbed the book and read the last 150 pages, finally finishing the book at 3:00 a.m. Surprise after surprise were revealed as the story moved to its conclusion. Forgiveness, given by grace, not earned, is one of the themes, as well as accepting one's own talents and gifts. Those readers who love all the little details of Regency life will find plenty to like within these pages. My favorite part was the genuine relationship between William and Abigail who seemed to be able to set aside all society's little rules of behavior and expectations to see the real people behind the facades.
I obtained this book from the Winnefox Library System.