Yorkshire, 1904: Above stairs: Lord Hoyland keeps his considerable fortune ticking over with the profits from his three coal mines in the vicinity. It’s just as well the coal is of the highest quality as the upkeep of Netherwood Hall, his splendid estate on the outskirts of town, doesn’t come cheap. And that’s not to mention the cost of keeping his wife and daughters in the latest fashions– and keeping the heir to the Hoyland wealth, the charming but feckless Tobias, out of trouble.
Below stairs: Eve Williams, is the wife of one of Lord Hoyland’s most stalwart employees. When her ordered existence amid the terraced rows of the miners’ houses is brought crashing down by the twin arrivals of tragedy and charity, Eve must look to her own self-sufficiency, and talent, to provide for her three young children. And it’s then that ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’ collide in truly dramatic fashion…
Netherwood is a thoroughly enjoyable historical saga and a fantastic debut from Jane Sanderson. I was completely drawn in to the world that Jane has created, loving both the historical detail and the variety and depth of characters that populate this book.
As the novel begins we find Eve Williams content with her life as mother to Seth, Eliza and Ellen and wife to her miner husband Arthur. The Williams family live in Netherwood town, part of the vast estate belonging to Lord Hoyland, Earl of Netherwood who resides at the impressive Netherwood Hall. As it begins, Netherwood is a novel of dramatic contrasts as details of Eve and Arthur’s working lives are recounted alongside those of the wealthy Hoyland family. Initially, there seems little in common between the two but a tragic accident brings Eve to the attention of the Hoylands and as their paths cross, the scene is set for a series of life changing events for Eve and her family.
Although narrated in the third person, Netherwood is very much Eve’s story and she was by far my favourite character. I loved that Eve is a straight talking practical Yorkshire woman and as I hale from Yorkshire stock myself, I’m happy to say that Sanderson has created a true sense of attitude and culture. Netherwood feels like a very well researched novel; alongside the detail of day to day life which reminded me of the recollections that my own Nan used to tell me of her childhood, Sanderson brings in wider themes of the time such as unionisation and votes for women but in a very accessible and poignant way, weaving the historical fact into a believeble, heartfelt and often heartwarming story.
I’ve said before that I always enjoy books with strong female characters that triumph over adversity and Eve certainly does that but she isn’t the only strong female character in the novel; Henrietta, Lord Hoyland’s oldest daughter is a great supporting character sharing her fathers interest in industry and his estate but thwarted by the expectations and rules of succession and propriety that society imposes on her. Eve’s widowed lodger Anna is also an inspiring character, hailing from a wealthy Russian family and having been transported to industrial Yorkshire by her marriage, she is taken in by Eve and the two form an instant alliance. It is Anna that catalyses Eve into taking control of her life and pushes her to expand her ambitions.
Henry and Anna are just two examples of characters that deserve strong storylines in future books in this series but Netherwood is populated by a whole host of interesting, lovable and not so lovable characters with numerous smaller story-lines that feed into the main story bringing elements of love, drama and humour. I loved how all of the small details came together to build a fascinating picture of a community at a certain point in time.
I’m pleased to see that there will be a sequel to Netherwood next year which follows on directly from the events of this book and I can’t wait to find out what happens to Eve and the rest of Netherwood next. Netherwood is a brilliant place to get lost in this Autumn and a must read for fans of period drama!
Netherwood is out now and I’d like to thank publisher Sphere for sending me a review copy.
You can find out more about Netherwood and Jane Sanderson on her website at: http://www.jane-sanderson.com/including the first three chapters of Ravenscliffe the sequel to Netherwood which will be released in September 2012.