by Jo Baker.
If Pride & Prejudice was turned into Upstairs/Downstairs or Downton Abbey, this would be the Downstairs portion. It’s the story of the servants that we just get mere glimpses of in Austen’s original, given their own histories and lives and secrets. In particular, it’s the story of Sarah, the primary housemaid at Longbourn who we hear the Bennets call after in P&P. She is increasingly dissatisfied with her life of drudgery, stubbornly hoping there must be something more for her. And then of course, the household hires on a new footman, a hardworking but mysterious young man who Sarah is sure is hiding something. His arrival sparks an upheaval in the previously calm and unchanging lives of the servants.
I can’t really say much more about that without spoilers, but I will say I thoroughly enjoyed this. All of the characters are well thought out, layered, and vivid. They really come to life on the page. And I would occasionally forget that this was in the world of P&P because it was that absorbing on its own. The Bennets (in particular Mr. Bennet and Elizabeth) do feature in some significant ways, but the focus is less on the romances unfolding abovestairs and more on the lives belowstairs. Darcy hardly makes an appearance, which normally would frustrate me because let’s be honest he’s a big part of why I love P&P and its spin-offs. But again, Sarah’s story was absorbing enough that I didn’t really notice, let alone mind. And between the Bennet’s new footman and one of Bingley’s footmen, there was plenty of literary eye candy to go around. The view of some of the main P&P characters from the point of view of the servants was interesting, too. Mr. Wickham took on a whole new level of ickiness. Lydia actually came across in a kinder light, which was surprising. And the author has invented a history that makes Mrs. Bennet much more sympathetic, and casts Mr. Bennet in different light entirely. And overall I just have a higher appreciation for not having to be a maid in the 1800’s. SO much work.
There are lots of different points and details I could talk about, but really, you should just go grab this and read it yourself. It’s good. 🙂
I give it 4/5 stars.
If you are also a fan of Jane Austen spin-offs, you should check out bundle #4 in my big book giveaway!