Wednesday, 2 July 2008

The Secret Countess, by Eva Ibbotson

The Secret Countess
By Eva Ibbotson

One thing about Eva Ibbotson is; all her books seem to include connections to the Amazon or Russia. Though not a flaw of Ms. Ibbotson's, it might be nice if the hero/heroine of the book wasn't Russian or living in the Amazon, or in a war.
The main character is a 18-20 year old girl called Anna (or 'Anoushka') Gravinzky from Russia. In her home country she was a Countess and owned palaces and land all over Russia, but with the revolution starting she and her family has had to flee and work for British aristocrats.
Anna is working as a housemaid for the Westerholmes, and quickly becomes a great friend to all the staff and the Westerholmes. She has to be careful to keep her identity secret, but Anna is, in a way, careless. Sooner or later the residents of Mersham (the Westerholmes estate) suss that she is of 'gentle birth' and all is revealed when the young Earl of Westerholme talks to a jeweller who tells him about the Gravinzky sapphires and other jewels, and about the Gravinzky's place in Russian society.
It is a love story, because Anna finds herself falling for the Earl (Rupert) who is engaged to be married to a beautiful, yet snobbish, young woman named Muriel, who is obsessed with eugenics, and will not befriend or marry anyone with any illness, mental or physical, in their family history.
This was an extremely good read, even if it was hard to get into.
When I first started the book I didn't like the style of writing or the language, and after trying to get into it for a few days, I set it aside. But, for lack of anything else to read, I picked the book up again and found it quite hard to put down, and so read past my 'bedtime'.
Even though I had read The Secret Countess for at least 2 hours last night, I was only about 5 or 6 chapters through it, but as I started to read it this morning I found myself getting well past the middle, reading on and on as I literally could not put the book down.
I finished The Secret Countess about half and hour ago, and I was extremely satisfied with the ending. Although it was a cliffhanger and left much to wonder about, I feel that no other ending would really have suited the book as well.
I would recommend this book to primary 7 or older girls, because I think the language is a little old-fashioned and complicated at times, which makes the book more suitable for early teens, and all the talk about love and dresses means that females would appreciate this book more.

I would say 'buy it now' because it truly is a great book and the story is lovely. It is hard to get into, but after you are about a quarter of the way through it gets really addictive and becomes one of those great books that you just can't put down!
'Another stunner from Ms. Ibbotson...'

Title: The Secret Countess (previously published as A Countess Below Stairs)
Eva Ibbotson
First Published: 1981, by MacDonald Futura as A Countess Below Stairs
Blurb: St Petersburg, 1917; Anna's world is under threat. The eighteen-year-old countess has lived in luxury all her life, but revolution is tearing Russia apart - and her family must escape...

London, 1919; Now penniless, Anna is working as a servant for the aristocratic Westerholmes. But as she falls in love with the young earl it becomes harder to keep her identity a secret...
An enchanting older novel from the award-winning author of Journey To The River Sea and The Star of Kazan.

Rating: 4/5

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