Meredith Allard describes her usual style as “Historical Fiction with a Twist.” This should give any readers new to her work a good clue as to what to expect from her latest novel, When It Rained at Hembry Castle.
Set in Victorian England, the story follows the fortunes of an aristocratic family who are left holding the fort when the 8th Earl of Staton dies. In contrast to them, Edward Ellis – the unlikely hero of the story – is an aspiring writer in the mold of a young Charles Dickens (and incidentally his grandparents happen to be in service at Hembry Castle). Daphne Meriweather, the new Earl’s niece just arrived from America, is smitten with Edward despite her mother’s grand plans for marrying her off to nobility…and so the story begins.
From the outset, readers will feel the influence of Allard’s own favorite author – the great Charles Dickens. In every lovingly written descriptive passage, amusingly drawn character and intriguing twist of plot, reverence for Dickens is there throughout (although the mannered exchanges that constitute the best part of the first ten or so chapters possibly owe more to Jane Austen). Readers who have prior knowledge of Dickens’ works will enjoy all the references, and those who have not yet explored his great books will no doubt be inspired to do so.
Allard also appears to have an excellent knowledge of Victorian Britain – from the fashions, food and customs to the architecture and landscapes which formed the backdrop. She has clearly done her research, and there is plenty here to keep fans of historical fiction happy.
The inclusion of so much historical color, some of which the author feels the need to explain to her readers, can at times feel a little self conscious. Such a distinct homage can potentially seem to be more a literary exercise than independent novel all its own. However, as the book goes on it feels more and more part of the fabric of the novel and as we get to know the characters they start to feel familiar, likable and very real. There are not too many characters in the plot, and the dialogue is breezy and realistic. The thread of mystery, and the twist in the tale, give what may have been a standard historical romance novel some added zing.
Allard is an experienced author with a flair for being able to conjure up vivid images of the past, with a good sense of balance between the “upstairs/downstairs” elements. Even if you have no immediate familiarity with Dickens or other authors of the era, When It Rained at Hembry Castle offers an eloquent and enjoyable read with Allard’s clear, strong voice.
This book is the first in a series, as after the title we read The Hembry Castle Chronicles Book 1. This is very good news given the strength of this first work, so be on the lookout for what will surely be a welcome follow-up to this very satisfying tale.