Title: Manor of Secrets
Author: Katherine Longshore
Release Date: Available
Despite the seemingly endless number of elegant halls and chambers, despite the sweeping staircases and undeniable atmosphere of luxury, to Lady Charlotte Edmonds, the Manor has rarely felt like anything more than a prison. Because built into the walls of the Manor itself is the rigid social code and unflinching set of expectations that defines every aspect of Charlotte’s life — dictating her actions and decisions, determining her future with no room for questions or debates. And as Charlotte grows older, this certain future takes shape in the form of an expected marriage to an equally wealthy and well-bred individual, the promise of which fills Charlotte with anxiety, dread — with the urge to run as far as her feet can carry her. She dreams of a life filled with adventure and excitement and love, pouring these desperate wishes into pages of writing, casting leads who demonstrate both bravery and courage, who fight for opportunity and chances. But rather than act on her desires, Charlotte continues to be little more than a dreamer, until she follows kitchen maid Janie Seward into the woods one day and, for once, dares to try something different.
Janie, despite also calling the Manor home, lives in a world far removed from Charlotte’s. All Janie knows is a life of servitude, bound by its own set of laws, threatening loss of job and lack of security for any step out of line. Janie knows this and accepts it, quietly dreaming of a better life, but content with the uncomplicated certainty of her station. And then Charlotte arrives, pulling Janie from the confines of her comfort zone into the world upstairs, potentially risking her future for the promise of friendship and excitement. Manor of Secrets follows Charlotte and Janie as their two lives are pulled closer together, carrying all complications and rules in tow, threatening an inevitable collision between their upstairs and downstairs lives.
While at times it seemed that Manor of Secrets leaned a little too heavily on traditional YA cliches, especially concerning the romance aspects of the story and various plot twists, I have to acknowledge Katherine Longshore’s beautiful prose and stunning descriptions of the setting she built for her characters in 1911. Charlotte and Janie and the cast of characters move through pages of exquisite detail and vivid imagery, through seamlessly constructed and flowing sentences. I also loved watching the relationship between Janie and Charlotte grow and develop, inspired and affected by the characters’ own development. However, it seemed that with all the focus placed upon those two, the other characters ended up slightly lacking. I wish there’d been the opportunity to explore the secondary figures to a greater extent, to hear their backstories, to know them better, so that rather than being supports to Charlotte and Janie’s story, they could stand alone with their own motives and history.
I can’t call myself someone who’s heavily explored the ranks of YA historical fiction, and so have little comparison for where Manor of Secrets stands among its fellows, but between the covers of Katherine Longshore’s novel, I found an intriguing and beautiful story that, despite the hints of romance, was ultimately an examination of how people learn and live and grow through friendship. I found a YA story that didn’t beat me over the head with a boy-meets-girl plot line, and instead, sought to tell the story of two girls fighting not just for their own rights and beliefs, but fighting for each other. Elegant and engaging — to put it simply, Manor of Secrets is a novel that’s well worth the read.
Review by Kayla
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