In London in the months leading up to the start of World War One, Pearl Gibson is a young woman with ambition--ambition to be a lady's maid, the most genteel occupation available to a young woman of her background. Her great-aunt Kitty taught her everything she could, and told her that it took "a very superior sort of girl" to be a lady's maid, and after years of work, moving repeatedly to advance herself, Pearl is interviewing with Lady Ottoline Campbell, who is looking for a new lady's maid.
It's the start of a new life for Pearl, and she has no idea just how much change this position, this particular lady, and the war will bring into her life. We see the strains and cracks already appearing in the old class system, and the hard rock it runs into with the war and all its death and destruction. But this is also a deeply romantic story. Pearl works out an unexpected friendship with Lady Ottoline, uncovers secrets of her own past, and finds love someplace wholly unexpected.
It's a beautifully developed story, with a richness of color, texture, and feeling. The cracking of the old order, the deaths and losses of the war, alongside the gains made by some as the cracks and losses created new opportunities for some, are all painfully present. At the same time, while acknowledging the costs, this is a strong, hopeful story.
Pearl and Ottoline, and those around them, are very nicely developed as characters, and our understanding of those around Pearl grows and changes as hers does. It's engrossing and satisfying.
I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.