As historical stories go, it’s hard not to reap enjoyment from the quaint and intriguing romance which is subtly contained within The Secret of Matterdale Hall.
Set in the Victorian era this characteristic extends beyond just the plot, encompassing the author’s style of writing and the choice of language; something which initially takes time to get used to, yet undoubtedly adds to the essence of the story.
A story which tells the tale of Susan Mottram, a woman of stature who after the sudden death of her father, finds herself taking up employment at the remote Yorkshire boarding school, Matterdale Hall.
Despite her best efforts it soon become apparent that Matterdale Hall is not a place which will afford Susan any friends nor an enjoyable life. Nevertheless she does her best to guide and teach her unruly charges, a feat made all the more difficult by the Claybourns, Susan’s unsettling and illusive employers.
A chance meeting atop the Yorkshire moors introduces the mysterious Cassandra to Susan’s drab and challenging existence. A woman of mixed race and deaf, Cassandra epitomizes the cruelness of the time; marginalized by society by those who find fear and danger in those that are other.
As the shadows darken at Matterdale Hall and the walls whisper their long held secrets, both Susan and Cassandra find themselves in danger. But with more than just friendship on the line, can they find the courage to save one another, whatever the cost?
I’m glad that I took a chance on this book; for a historical romance I (unusually) found myself as invested in the Victorian time period as i did the romance and intrigue elements of the story. The author does a great job of showcasing the discrimination and marginalization of minorities of the time by featuring prominent characters who are either mentally ill, mixed race and/or deaf. It’s difficult to find such an array of inclusiveness all under the roof of one book.
What I particularly welcomed is that the deaf individuals are main characters, and their deafness is not just quietly mentioned and then glossed over. Instead the story revolves around their experience of the world, their way of communicating with others and their trials and tribulations in the face of cruel and indifferent prejudices.
All in all, Matterdale Hall is a dark and twisty story of exclusion, of fearing that which we don’t understand. But also the power and inner strength which can come from simple kindness, the like of which can blossom a friendship into a tender romance even under the most fraught of conditions.
I received an ARC of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.
Available on 15/11/2022 from (and other book sellers):