Cover Image: Lying with Lions

Lying with Lions

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Member Reviews

A mix of fact and fiction is what this book offers and it is done so well 
The storyline is well managed and you are not waiting endlessly for something to happen and features mystery and espionage and at times a pulse racing thriller
Thank you to netgalley for a pre publication copy of this book
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Lying with Lions has an intriguing premise: Set in the Edwardian period, just after the turn of the century, there is a fertile historical ground Fielding obviously enjoys harvesting. The most interesting part of the book was certainly the unusual prose which often felt almost lyrical. Rich and sensory descriptions are certainly the stand out features of the novel.

However, while the story was off to a good start, it lost me around the halfway point, where the narrative suddenly felt unfocused as it grew more and more intertwined with political intrigues. The sources and inspirations Fielding lists in the end proves that she did her research, and as admirable as that is, it also felt like there was too much going on in the second half of the novel. I never quite warmed up to the cast of characters, and their intentions were increasingly murky. 

While it might have benefitted from some streamlining, this is still a solid debut, and I'm curious about whatever Fielding publishes next.

Thank you to netgalley for the ARC!
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This was an enjoyable read that fully immersed me into the world of both the Edwardian period and the Bryant family. This was a great story with a deliciously gothic undertone that really added to the atmosphere of the book. I read it quickly as I needed to see how it played out and whether the dark secret would come out as they so normally do. I really enjoyed it.
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Lying with Lions is a historical fiction novel set in Edwardian England, following Agnes Ashford, who is the archivist for the Bryants. During her work, Agnes discovers a dark family secret which greatly impacts the family and her relationship to them. 

I loved the mysterious and gothic elements of this work. The writing was really beautiful as well, which is something I really appreciate. I also enjoyed the way the romance subplot was handled. It is quite subtle, with much of it happening off-page (I wish more moments would have been highlighted throughout the book, but that's just my hopeless romantic queer heart talking). It was a raw portrayal of romance, which was a nice change from some of the romances I've read as of late which tend to be too sweet for my liking. The characters were great as well, and I couldn't help rooting for them.

Personally, I found the plot got a bit politics heavy at some points, which slowed down my reading quite a bit. As someone who enjoys reading character-driven stories over plot-heavy ones, this is why my own rating isn't higher. Otherwise, I loved most of the other elements of the story, and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in a sapphic and gothic historical novel.
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A really interesting novel! I loved the Gothic elements, perfect as we enter Autumn and get closer to Halloween. I loved Agnes Ashford and the vivid imagery of Edwardian England, as well as the brilliant ending.
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Agnes Ashford face with her own families financial problems, gains employment and is appointed with the task of archiving the family history of the Bryant’s at Hartfell Hall, by Lord Alistair Bryant. Along with the basic task of family trees, Agnes goes on to uncover family secrets, hidden and covered by lies that have stayed tucked away in the tunnels under the house.

When Lord Bryant meets an untimely demise the House, it’s staff and various family come forward to cause further distress to Lady Helen. Agnes steps in, to fill various roles, and help avoid future scandalous events to add to the families history, whilst becoming deeper involved than she ever thought possible, by covering up lies, she helps create even more.

An intricate sense of the Edwardian era, time and place, factual history is seamlessly woven in by Annabel, which just adds and enriches the storyline. A set of characters, all with their own issues, further enhance this and add to the time line.

A well detailed story, which will take you back in time to Edwardian England. A historical novel which embarks taking you on a journey through time, rich in detail and characters.
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For anyone who reads my reviews, you know I love historical fiction. Throw in a little gothic intrigue? *chef’s kiss* I live for lush, descriptive, elegantly flowing storylines. It’s easy to get lost in the world and emotions of the characters.
While Lying with Lions had those elements, I found myself losing track of what the story’s purpose was. There were moments I got so invested in the new direction the story was going, and then a new chapter would pull me in a completely different direction. 
What I liked (and kind of disliked) was the span of time the story occurred over. It was YEARS that zipped by. We did get to see the evolution of Agnes and her position in the Bryant family. I liked seeing her grow into someone bold and someone who could stand on her own with authority. Her intelligence is what drew me in further. 
Lady Bryant, there had always been an element of mistrust. Slowly it unfolded in her political aspirations and how far she would go to ensure her wants were put first. That goes hand in hand with how she treated Agnes. Their relationship wasn’t as balanced as Agnes saw it as.
The romance aspect of this was mostly fade to black. I’d give it a one out of five on the spice scale.
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Lying with Lions delivers exactly what the synopsis promises: an archivist, family wounds and a dark secret; all within the first quarter, what follows is a difficult-to-follow journey through Edwardian politics. While there were sparks of intrigue, I largely found myself anticipating a strong narrative that never took hold.

I struggled with the pacing, with an engaging start that fizzled out as the story progressed. The element of romance was a pleasant change of pace, although it was rather contrived and seemed to appear out of thin air. What could have been the book's saving grace, instead fell flat.

Characters such as Meredith and Harold were positively enchanting and provided much-needed relief from the politics of the Bryant household, I only wish the story could have revolved around them instead.

The first-person narrative took getting accustomed to, however there were several moments which brought a smile to my face at the beauty of the writing. Unfortunately some typographical errors did pull me back into reality, breaking the flow of the story.

In all, I found many components of the book to be enjoyable (the setting, the characters, the lesbian romance) but found the delivery to be lacking.
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I really enjoyed this book as it started off as murder mystery, then romance with a dash of politics. 
It has really good characters that make you change how you feel towards them.  Power hungry, driven and manipulation takes over lives and deep buried secrets are unveiled much to some peoples dismay. 

I was lucky to join the blog tour and my full review is on my blog page
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I like historical fiction and this was a very good one. Lots of plot and twists and so many tropes! Just when I'd think the situation was resolved another twist would show up. 
it's very atmospheric and the story line is complex and engaging. 
I liked the characters but I think I would have read more about the two main characters relationship==more backstory and progression would have been welcome. 
It was an exciting read and I think I read most of it in one day. 
Definitely a good one for those interested in historical fiction and well thought out plot
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*Many thanks to Annabel Fielding and NetGalley for arc in exchange for my honest review.*
A good read that begins during the Edwardian England and and based on some real events which were craftly mastered for this novel. Lying with Lions has a little of a Gothic feel, with the premise of a Hall with tunnels and abandoned rooms and characters of whom we learn a little but not everything as it turns out while reading. Agnes Ashford, a young woman with no qualifications, is employed by the master of the house to look at the family archives. Agnes is ambitious and intelligent and in consequence of some events becomes more than an archive girl. This is her story and the story of a much disturbed aristocratic family.
None of the characters are likeable to me, however, the plot is intriguing and kept me interested. The author put a lot of effort into descriptions of the customs of the Edwardian times and achieved a superb result creating the atmosphere of those days.
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I was really excited to review 'Lying with Lions'. The blurb had me hope for a captivating Edwardian novel, a fast-paced mystery including some LGBT and lots of tension. It was not to be.
I usually struggle with novels written in the present tense, and this was not one of the exceptions. As regards the plot, I found it quite intriguing as a whole, but wonder if all the side-trips into politics, vacations and more were necessary in such excruciating detail. Whilst their gist served to illustrate the Bryant's ruthlessness to retain power and wealth, they stopped the impetus of the story and made for a sometimes downright tedious and confusing reading experience. So many single trees made me miss sight of the forest... Nevertheless, the historical background was extremely well researched, just inappropriately presented in my mind.
The characters were interesting, especially that of Agnes, the naive hero worshipper with a razor sharp intellect. She might have been the 'little lamb', meek and peaceful, to Helen, but she acted more like a faithful dog, fawningly protective of her owner and performing - perfectly so - on command. What remains enigma to me is Agnes' sudden turn-around at the end. She, who had never shown any emotion or self-reflection suddenly, out of the blue, seems to have a conscience after all. Similarly, Reginald,  who acts like a true cad throughout the novel, inexplicably develops into an avuncular, well-meaning uncle. 
Overall, I was disappointed. The individual pieces are right: a great plot, a fascinating, well researched historical period, interesting characters; it just didn't work for me the way it was all put together. It was a 2 1/2 star read for me.
Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for the opportunity to review this book.
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How great does that synopsis sound? Well I’m happy to say that Lying with Lions delivers all that and more.

We are plunged straight into the action. Agnes as found herself a position as an archivist for an old family. We don’t get any background to how she ended up there, but we do know that she’s not trained and is figuring things out as she goes.

Old family records (and secrets) are stored in tunnels under the house which gives the book an eerie edge at the beginning. And through her work Agnes discovers something the family would rather keep quiet.

What this drives is a change to the dynamic. Agnes starts to really embed herself in the family.

A lot of historical fiction novels with similar vibes are slow burns, but Annabel Fielding gives us a fast paced story set over several years. So this really stands out in its genre, and could be a great choice for someone who wants to get into the genre or who has been put off by other slow moving tales.

I should say that the characters in here are not particularly likeable. For me that doesn’t impact my enjoyment (I find unlikable characters really interesting to read about), but it’s worth mentioning as I know some don’t like reading about them.

A great thing to highlight is that there is a central female/female relationship. It’s always a bonus to see LGBT+ representation, particularly in a setting such as Edwardian England.

Overall, this is a fast paced read with family secrets. It’ll pull you in, wanting to find out what has been going on behind closed doors.
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Agnes enjoys her simply employment as an archivist in the nobel Bryant family. As she discovers a letter in the tunnels, she slowly starts to uncover the family secrets. Dutifully she shares the letter with Lady Bryant. Soon a tight bond forms between them. At first out of loyalty, and self-preservation and later with a romantic element. Through the years they skillfully navigating different scandals and historical events. Over these times their bond changes and so do the characters. 


What stands out the most in "Lying with Lions" are the main characters: Agnes and Helen (aka Lady Bryant). They are very strong characters in their own respective ways. Agnes is silent but extremely smart, slowly and almost perfectly working her way up the ladder of power and success. As far as someone from the lower/working class can expect. She is so cunning that even Helen compliments her on many occasions about this. 

While Helen is born into power, and carries the strength that comes with it. She is unyielding with her path and ideas. She won't take criticism from anyone who doesn't agree with her. Her motives are indomitable according to her. Even as a new age dawns she sticks and believe in them. 

This in turn also means that the way various events and scandals are dealt with is not in a very fine "no blood on my hand" way. Instead, they move a lot within morally grey and even shady aspects. Sometimes even downright illegal but it is all for "the best" of the family and the name Bryant. 

After all, during the course of the novel, they see their fair shares of charges against them, potential scandals, as well as political challenges. This goes so far, that I found it hard to pick out what the main focus of the plot was meant to be, and what was the big secret that would come to day which has been mentioned in the blurb I had been provided. 

"However, a dark secret [Agnes] uncovers due to her work thrusts her into the Bryants’ brilliant orbit - and into the clutch of their ambitions."

- quote from the blurb of Lying With Lions, date of retrieval: 14.08.2021 

This made the overall plot into a slow read which was also quite fast. It would seem these terms should exclude each other but this is not the case. Instead you are thrown along the time-line with each event being hasty fixed and explained. There are about five family dramas - if not more - and all within 233 pages. Which made the book a fast-paced one, but at the same time, it is hard to care for any of the characters and without being able to figure out the main plot that had been alluded to. This confusion made it into a slow plot because I kept looking for the building up to the big reveal when there wasn't any! 

As a native German speaker, I also have to nit-pick on the few German lines in "Lying with Lions." During a holiday someone on the streets sings das Lied von der Loreley (engl. The Song about Loreley) written by Heinrich Heine. It is only quoted once as "Sie kammt sich mit Goldenen Kamme" which is just not correct. Capital letters and cases make all the difference as it should be "Sie kämmt es mit goldenem Kamme". Once again, I am imploring authors who use a language foreign to them to use it correctly. 

Furthermore, there are plenty of careless mistakes left in my ARC. Mostly words that had been left in which shouldn't have been - "[...] it is usually to twist out heart out on the next turn". As well as typos such as a "train crush".

However, the power dynamic between Helen and Agnes is extremely interesting. At first, it is the obvious one because Agnes is an employee and Helen is a Lady and, technically, her employer. So it is quite hard to say no to her. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Helen respects Agnes for her skill and values her input greatly. At the same time, it never quite feels like a romance - and I believe this was intended - even as Helen gives Agnes her jewelry, orders dresses for her, as well as calling Agnes her wife. Instead, it seems like an arrangement both can be comfortably with and gain something that hadn't been possible before. 

At the same time, Agnes is anything but a little lamb who rolls over when being told. There are times where she successfully manages to tip the power balance in her favour. All without Helen even noticing that it had happened. Others do, and mention this, which is brutally ignored by Helen. 

The ending makes this very clear and what an ending it is. Without spoiling it, I loved to read it. Also seeing the view from the outside compared to what really happened. The ending was a real gem. 

Overall, "Lying with Lions" is a historical fiction novel that involves LGBT elements. It strays from pure black and white moral and is led by strong characters. Unfortunately, it is let down by various mistakes as well as a plot that is all over the place. 

P.S.: my nit-pick on the German did not influence this rating.
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God, I love a book with a picture of a sinister lookin’ big house on the front. And, for the most part, Lying with Lions lives up to its “sinister lookin’ big house” premise. It’s kind of a gothic-ey, thriller-ey, sapphic-ey historical about the dissolution of a grand old English family. Some shades of Downton in its exploration of modernity versus tradition, the inevitability of decline, and the nebulous grief associated with the loss of a particular way of life (even if it was a way of life that privileged about a hundred people at the cost of literally everyone else in the country) but … darker. And, y’know, better. Because Downton, while fun in places, was utter bobbins.

Anyway, the book spans the tail end of the Edwardian era to the outbreak of the first World War. Its primary viewpoint character (though, not counting the epilogue, we do get a couple of chapters near the end from an alternative perspective, which I wasn’t mad keen on, if I’m honest—it felt too much like narrative contrivance) is Agnes Ashford: a woman of uncertain middle-class background who is currently working as an archivist for Bryant family.  Agnes is herself something of a mystery, submissive in some ways, shrewd in others, sometimes rather innocent, sometimes unrepentantly ambitious. She has mastered the twin arts of invisibility and silence—a mastery that allows her to rise from temporary archivist to the secretary, companion and lover to the lady of the house. A woman as mysterious, conflicted and ambitious as Agnes herself.

By far the most fascinating part of the book for me was the relationship between Agnes and Lady Helen: romantic, sensual, entwined with power games and manipulations on both sides, a carefully and mutually maintained knife edge of truth and falsehood. If anything, I wanted more of their relationship, especially when it starts to tip towards the end, and the two women find themselves—explicitly, for perhaps the first time—at odds.  Given the book spans years, this should not have felt abrupt, and yet it kind of did. Especially when there’s such a pile of misdeeds already behind them.

Agnes is just as elusive to the reader as she is the people around her—she slips through the text in precisely the same way she slips through the lives of Bryant family—but at the end I really needed a tiny bit more of her. She has done Lady Helen’s bidding, and occasionally even gone above and beyond what was required of her, for about 90% of the book. And then in the final 10% she disobeys, intending to slip away from Lady Helen. What, I think, left me somewhat confuses about this sudden change of heart was that, ultimately, the outcome of Agnes’s rebellion is the SAME OUTCOME that Lady Helen was attempting to achieve.

SPOILERS HO:

Despite what felt like a somewhat abbreviated ending, I really did enjoy the book. The characters are all interesting (and even sympathetic) messes, bearing the damage of the generations that preceded them, and caught in the same brutal game of power and privilege. This was notably typo-ridden (even for an ARC) but the writing was genuinely gorgeous, perfectly pitched to reflect its subject matter, beautiful and stifling and slightly terrible. I especially loved the descriptions of the Hartfell Hall (as I say, this book earned its ominous house cover) and Lady Helen, for they feel of a piece, light and shade, and opulence.

I will say, I was expecting slightly more, um, archiving? In the book? There are tunnels beneath the house that are full of objects and papers that Agnes was originally hired to document. While this history remains thematically resonant, and the tunnels, of course, play a part in the book’s appropriately gothic, Agnes doesn’t stay an archivist for long. And I confess I felt kind of … archivally blue-balled? This is not a fault with the story at all, it’s just I thought archiving and unravelling centuries of corrupt wrongdoing was going to be a major part of the book. But while there’s definitely mysteries here, and indeed corrupt wrongdoing, it’s very much concentrated on the here and now of Lady Helen’s own involvement with the Bryant family.

So much so that even my appetite for scandalous secrets started to feel a bit sated. Some of these scandals I semi-recognised from vague historical knowledge: the lawsuit over the legitimacy of Lady Helen’s heir, the indecent proposal for Lady Helen’s daughter, even the … of all things … the bit with the gun running and the political manoeuvrings around Asquith and Home Rule . But the thing is, those all involved different families. So having them ALL kind of happen to and around Lady Helen was, well, it was a lot? And I think, towards the end, it genuinely start to detract from the emotional impact of what was happening. Gothic novels need a sense of escalation and the problem is the earlier parts of the book are all amazingly personal: an abusive husband, a bitter marriage, an estranged heir, a dead child. And please don’t think I’m trying to diminish the impact of arms trading or dismiss its moral weight, or indeed, the various political causes the heavily dominate the final third of the book. It’s just—as a reader—I’m afraid I’m always going to be less emotionally invested in the composition of the House of Lords than, say, who poisoned Lady Helen’s husband.

All of which said, somewhat weak final section aside, and less on-page archiving than I was personally hoping for, I really did have an excellent time with this book. I am always here for exquisite writing, big houses with terrible histories, the dissolution of the British ruling class and, especially, sapphic ladies playing sexy power games with each other. If you like any of those things, I very much recommend picking up Lying with Lions.
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Sorry, got to 20% and had to DNF. I just couldn't fathom what was happening or why...nothing was cohesive, the book seemed to start with a sound storyline, the suspicious circumstances of the death of the heir, then I got lost when Agnes visited Lady Bryant's brother. After that, I just didn't know what was going on, how it related to the original plot, and there was no hook to propel me to keep going.
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Considering that I am in a major reading slump, I am pleasantly surprised I managed to get through the book in the first place.

I really enjoyed the relationships between the characters; a lot of drama and secrecy, all deliciously juicy. Agnes’ and Lady Helen’s relationship was an interesting turn of events I didn’t expect but thought it added a different angle, which was refreshing and that I actually quite enjoyed.

“Closing your eyes to your guilt doesn’t make you innocent.”

Fielding’s writing style is quite hard. The author’s dictionary is definitely much-much larger than mine and I found myself constantly stopping to look up the meaning of the words in front of me. Personally, I prefer an easy read, where I can just relax and let the story flow through my eyes without having to stop to understand what I’ve just read.

On the plus side, I may have picked up a couple of new words – such as debutantes, cortège, slovenly, trysts and veneration.

Lying with Lions is heavily dialogue driven and slow paced. So if that’s your jam and you enjoy a slow burn – try it out 🙂

Thank you again to Fielding for sending me her book and allowing me express my opinions!
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Lying with Lions by Annabel Fielding is an Edwardian historical fiction novel set in the grand home of the Bryant family.

Agnes Ashford has been hired as an archivist for the Bryant family, her mammoth task is to use the documents and artefacts stored in the 12-mile maze of tunnels under the castle to create a timeline and history of the family.
 
Agnes’ ambition and curiosity draws her closer to Lady Helen Bryant, becoming the confidant and lover of one of England’s most wealthy and politically influential woman, however, as Agnes digs deeper into the family’s past she finds some secrets that potentially have the power to destroy Bryant’s influence and standing.

The book’s overall tone is one of intrigue and mystery as Agnes not only untangles the family secrets but also the lies from the truth while working to keep her past firmly locked away. Lying with Lions is a fantastic read for lovers of historic fiction, political novels or lesbian fiction.


An excerpt from Lying with Lions
‘I know about your son Gregory’s death’.

‘I should certainly hope so’. Lady Bryant’s posture is still erect, and she is doing her best to speak lightly. ‘Given your duties’.

‘I mean to say that I know how he truly died’, Agnes says quietly, and steps closer.

Lady Helen Bryant gathers herself upright, as if preparing for an attack. ‘My son died of pheumonia’, she says. ‘

Your son died of starvation. I’ve seen it written in your own hand’.

The older woman inhales sharply. ‘What is it that you want? Money?’

‘I’m only here because I want to help you’. It sounds better than I’m here because I want to be here, upstairs, in this bedroom of black and gold lacquer, and not in my solitary room behind the baize door where life and time goes to die.

Lady Bryant laughs briefly, and Agnes has never heard a laughter this humorless. ‘Very well; let’s phrase it in a more genteel way. What would you like as a reward for your help?’

book review goes like 14/08/21
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Beneath Hartfell Hall is a labyrinth of tunnels that is the province of Agnes Ashford, an archivist engaged by the affluent and titled Bryant family. These tunnels hold the history of the Bryant family.

The Bryant's declining fortunes were bolstered by Lord Alastair Bryant, the current Baron of Willoughby, marrying a wealthy coal magnate's daughter, Helen Davenport. Helen is disparaging of her husband and his family, especially her sister-in-law who has always viewed Helen as an interloper because of her origins. She is also estranged from her only brother, Reginald Davenport, the black sheep of the family, but maintains a relationship with her father, Theodore Davenport.

While wading through documents Agnes uncovers a family tragedy that no one speaks of and a son banished from the home. This sets Agnes on the trail of a mystery, but her attention is diverted when the death of Alastair Bryant threatens to expose another scandal.

Agnes is not the innocent she seems. Circumstances have taught her that she must make the best of the opportunities that come her way, even to making those opportunities, if she is to regain the position in society she once enjoyed. Clever and unobtrusive, Agnes inveigles her way into the family's lives and grows even closer to Helen, unearthing more secrets and potential scandals.

Helen Bryant is a cold, selfish and conniving woman. Her purpose in life is to retain her position in society, preserve her wealth and protect the family from scandal any way she can. She is a product of her upbringing. Occasionally, she shows a little softness towards her lover, Agnes. At face value, her actions seem noble, but the political situation of the day reveals to what extent she is prepared to go, willingly aided by Agnes.

As war breaks out, Helen is determined to keep her son away from the battlefields, but when Agnes discovers an unforgivable act, her conscience finally prompts her to sacrifice all that she has worked towards.

Mystery and drama abound in this novel from Annabel Fielding. It begins in the latter years of the Edwardian era and continues into the early years of George V's reign. When Edward VII dies and George V takes over, the political outlook also changes, especially for the wealthy. Socialism is on the rise, Home Rule for Ireland is being debated (where many have estates), there is a constitutional crisis in the House of Lords and an increase in taxes is proposed on the wealthy to fund social welfare. These historical aspects are cleverly woven into the story and provide a real threat to the family's wealth and position.

Both Helen and Agnes are unlikeable characters, although I did feel more sympathetic towards Agnes at the end. I enjoyed the power play between them and the exciting final showdown.

Lying with Lions is a very intriguing novel that I'm happy to recommend.
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This book was more character driven than I was expecting it to be and at times felt that I didn't know what the plot of this book was as a result. However, after I noticed it was more to do with Agnus' ties with the family I did seem to get more into the book. 

I did find that this was an easy read so was able to read through it rather easily however did get confused as parts seemed to be told from other characters and move forward in time without any notice which made me have to re-read parts to fully understand what was happening. I did also like how it had the secret romance in which would have been secret in those times and how they managed to be together while not having that come up as a possibility from the family except a working relationship. The ending of this was probably my favourite just before the epilogue and the drama which was happening really kept me engrossed. 

However, at points there was spelling mistakes and added words which did make sections of this make no sense but I did manage to understand after re-reading the sentence. 

Overall, I thought that this book was okay and I did find it an easy read. Definitely something people should pick up if you like character driven historical fiction.
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