I’m delighted today to be joining the blog tour for The Forgotten Maid by Jane Cable, and sharing my review. Published by Sapere Books on 3rd August, the first in a planned series of Cornish Echoes dual timeline mysteries, it’s now available for kindle (just 99p for a limited time, and free via Kindle Unlimited) and in paperback. My thanks to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for the invitation and support, and to the publishers for my reading e-copy (provided via netgalley).
I’ve enjoyed Jane Cable’s books since I read her first, The Cheesemaker’s House, way back in 2013 – I remember how much I loved its touch of Yorkshire magic, and found it quite enchanting (you’ll find my review here). I then went on to enjoy The Faerie Tree even more (review here) – this book was revised and republished in October 2021 (by One More Chapter, under Jane’s alter ego of Eva Glyn), and is now delighting new readers as The Missing Pieces of Us. Her third book, Another You, was simply wonderful, and I was thrilled when – after it had been unavailable for a while for others to enjoy – Sapere Books republished it in June 2019, and it’s now available once more for kindle (free via Kindle Unlimited) and in paperback (you’ll find a repeat of my original review here). And then I read Endless Skies – perhaps my favourite so far, with the most wonderful storytelling and her writing better than ever.
But I was excited about this book from the moment I saw the synopsis – I could see it was a little different from the books that have gone before, both because of its Cornish setting and its dual timeline. Let’s take a closer look…
A captivating dual timeline romance set in Cornwall! Perfect for fans of Sarah Burton, Stacey Halls, Jessie Burton and Kate Mosse.
Two centuries apart, two lonely women seek a place to call home…
Cornwall, England, 2015
Nomadic project manager Anna Pritchard has arrived in the village of Porthnevek to oversee the construction of a trendy new glamping site. But with many members of the local community strongly opposed to the development, she quickly finds herself ostracised and isolated.
Seeking to ease her loneliness, Anna begins volunteering at a nearby National Trust house in Trelissick, once owned by the aristocratic Daniell family. In her new role, Anna soon feels her attachment to both Porthnevek and Trelissick deepening. And as she spends more and more time steeped in local history, it seems that the past and the present are beginning to collide…
After losing her brother in the Battle of Waterloo, French army seamstress Thérèse Ruguel is taken to London by war artist Thomas Chalmers, becoming his reluctant muse. But with Thomas’s mother unhappy with the arrangement, Thérèse is soon sent to Cornwall as a lady’s maid to Elizabeth Daniell, a kindly relative of the Chalmers family.
Able to speak only a little English — and with the other servants suspicious of her — Thérèse feels lost and alienated. And when she discovers her brother may still be alive, she must decide whether to continue with her new life in England, or brave the dangerous journey back to her homeland…
What became of Thérèse? Can Anna unearth the ghosts of the past?
And has Anna finally found where she belongs…?
The Forgotten Maid is a beautiful time-shift romance set in Cornwall between the Regency era and the modern day.
I read a lot of dual time stories – when they’re done well, they’re always a personal favourite. And I’m delighted to say that this lovely book entirely lived up to my high expectations – with its strong sense of place, well developed characters, central mystery, historical authenticity, romance and small touches of the supernatural, I found it entirely enthralling and perhaps one of my favourite reads this year.
Anna certainly doesn’t feel the warmth of a Cornish welcome when she arrives in the village of Porthnevek – managing the setting up of a glamping site, she’s used to there being some initial local opposition, but not the hostility and small acts of sabotage that make her life and job increasingly difficult. But she finds a group of people who accept her rather more at The Tinners, drinking her occasional half of bitter while helping one of the locals with his crossword – and finds another solution to the loneliness of her days by volunteering as a part-time guide at the nearby National Trust property of Trelissick, the former home of the Daniell family.
Back in 1815, we first meet Thérèse Ruguel as she searches for the body of her brother following the Battle of Waterloo – discovered on the battlefield, she’s rescued and brought to England by a war artist who adopts her as his muse, but she is then found a position as a ladies’ maid with the prosperous Daniell family, living and working at their home in Truro and at their Trelissick estate. The welcome she receives is a less than warm one too – the other staff are understandably hostile to someone who’s French given the historical background – but she forms a close and trusting relationship with the Daniell family themselves.
What develops is a wonderful story, not told by alternating chapters but in sections, moving between Anna’s life in the present day and Thérèse’s experiences while in service with the Daniells. Both women are exceptionally strong and well-drawn characters – and both storylines are equally well-developed and entirely engaging, with links, echoes and parallels that draw them together. I’ve often found that a dual time story succeeds or fails by whether I’m equally happy to remain in the present day or to plunge into the past: this book has none of those wrenches often experienced elsewhere, moving smoothly between the threads with both storylines wrapped around each other. Both stories are quite superb, with real emotional depth – and the dramatic events that develop in both really kept the pages turning ever faster, the outcomes for both heroines always in the balance.
The book’s sense of place is exceptional – Trelissick itself, and the superbly described Cornish landscape past and present. Despite the opposition to her presence, I could entirely understand why Anna slowly began to see her future in such a wonderful setting – the author’s love for her adopted home county becomes something the reader feels too. And I really loved the book’s historical authenticity, the well-researched detail both social and around the area’s industrial past, the extreme poverty of the former mining communities set against the lives of privilege of others – and the way the author uses that detail to build a world I entirely believed in. I can sometimes be less of a fan of supernatural elements in the books I read, but in this book they’re gentle – and I felt they only enhanced the story, and increased the depth of engagement with the characters.
And I really must mention the book’s characters. While Thérèse and Anna drive the story, there’s also a very strong supporting cast – the kinder individuals who bring warmth to the book, but also the villains (including the unsuspected ones). The romance – sometimes from an unexpected quarter – is excellent too, strong and believable, emotionally satisfying in every way. My only very minor niggle about the story was around Anna’s edge of sadness about events in her past – I did expect it to be developed a little more – but it certainly didn’t impact on my enjoyment.
I really loved every moment of this book – I’m sure the author might have been a tad concerned that her new direction might not be entirely to the taste of every reader, but I can’t imagine anyone failing to love it. Jane Cable is still very firmly ensconced in my favourite authors list, and I recommend this book really highly.
About the author
Jane Cable writes romance with a twist for Sapere Books, and The Forgotten Maid is her first novel set in her adopted county of Cornwall. She is lucky enough to have been married to the love of her life for more than twenty-five years, and loves spending time outdoors, preferably close to the sea on the wild and rugged north Cornwall coast.
She also writes emotional women’s fiction as Eva Glyn, published by One More Chapter.