It's not very often I read a book which is described as a 'saga' but for some reason, 'To be a Fine Lady' by Elizabeth Jeffrey caught my eye and I really fancied reading it. The book was first published in 2000 but the copy I had was a 2012 reprint and I have to mention the fact that the front cover bears absolutely no resemblance to the story within, it's quite comical that there's a bunch of old fashioned kids in fancy dress as if they are staging a wedding and some of the colours are picked out on the photo which is black and white and one unfortunate child has her hair painted yellow for some reason. But the cover aside, it's the book I'll be reviewing so take no notice of the picture!
I got this book through a swapping website and when it arrived it looked unread and in mint condition. I read it a few nights in the bath so it's not mint any more... but I have to say it's been a really good read for an unexpected saga novel.
A bit about
The book follows Joanna, found as a baby wrapped in a velvet cloak by the farmer's wife and brought up as her own, although she is cruelly treated by the farmer who sells her to the local land owner when she comes of age (16) and she is taken from a life of drudgery to one of finery and struggles to change her habits and expectations in life to suit those of a fine lady.
This book really kept me guessing although I had a few ideas as to what might happen to Joanna. As a young lady her views and morals are admirable and she treats everyone fairly in life with a lot of empathy towards her servants who don't really know her background but know she's not really one of the gentry. As her parentage is unknown, Joanna is convinced she was destined for this life and believes she is really a bit special.
The characters in the book are really well developed beside the main character, Joanna. Her beloved 'mother' Martha is constantly there for her even when her luck turns her in to a lady. Her awful father Saul is mean and cruel to everyone. Her childhood friend Tom turns up just when she needs him most. The devilishly handsome Lynwood is one that I struggled with both liking and hating him in equal measures. The lovely and kind land owner Abraham treats Joanna nicely as his young wife he dotes on her and she loves him for this. Finally, Liddy the local witch is someone feared by Joanna but she turns to her when she needs help and Liddy is quietly all seeing and knowing when it comes to Joanna's life.
There are many people I can think of that would probably enjoy reading this book as it is set in Sheffield which is close to where we live. I will probably pass it on to my Mother in Law who is a keen reader as she is a fan of sagas, I'm sure. I am also keen to read further books by this writer, Elizabeth Jeffrey and nine books are listed at the front of the book that I will be seeking out in the future.
This was a really nice book to read, humbling at times and a reminder to enjoy our lives when times are good as you never know what's round the corner. The pace was good, the story line different and the characters interesting to find out about so I give this book (almost) top marks in my review.