Friday, April 24, 2015

Book Review: "Fiercombe Manor" by Kate Riordan

"Fiercombe Manor" by Kate Riordan
First published in 2015
403 pages
My rating: 2.5 out of 5
Image from Goodreads

The Short of It:

This disappointing book had promise but the plot never developed enough for my taste and I didn't really grow to care about the characters. A bit of a snoozefest with some vagaries that were never explained.

The Long of It:
The cover of "Fiercombe Manor" totally pulls me in, from the mottled sky to the charming old manor to the nifty font. And it's supposed to be right up the alley of Kate Morton fans, so I was all set to love this book.

Unfortunately, I found this novel to be rather dull, and I was confused as to exactly what type of book I was reading for most of it. Was it a novel of secrets and lies? Was it a mystery? Was it a ghost story? (It's not a ghost story, but the elements that made me think it was -- suspicious noises, spooky lights where there shouldn't be any, mysterious coincidences -- were never actually explained, which was frustrating.)

"Fiercombe Manor" tells the tales of two women: unwed expectant mother Alice Everleigh in 1936, and Elizabeth Stanton, also pregnant, in 1898. Alice is sent to Fiercombe, tucked away in a secluded valley in England's Cotswolds, to see out her shameful pregnancy away from London. She quickly becomes engrossed in the shrouded, hushed-up story of the valley's past and its former occupants, the Stantons.

Meanwhile in 1898 we meet Elizabeth, wife to an overbearing English lord. After a severe case of postpartum depression following her daughter's birth as well as two miscarriages, she's praying to deliver a healthy baby boy. I had a pretty tough time warming up to Alice, but Elizabeth's slowly unfolding story is so pitiful that the reader can't help but feel some sympathy for her. I was definitely disgusted by chauvinistic culture of the 1800s and Elizabeth's husband's power to make decisions for her, and I mustered up a decent amount of hatred for the ignorant, arrogant man and the unenlightened ways of the era.

However, I'm sorry to say that "Fiercombe Manor" just didn't hold my attention, and I even thought about giving up on it. But I felt sure that the big twist -- the exciting reveal, the final connecting of the pieces -- would make it all worth it so I soldiered on. Sadly, I was disappointed in the predictable dual climaxes and I found myself skimming the last 20 pages so it'd be over faster!

In a way I can understand the comparison to Kate Morton -- "Fiercombe Manor" is a past and present story about two women, one trying to unravel the mysteries and secrets surrounding the other. But, though I've only read one Kate Morton book, I can say that it was completely engrossing. All I wanted to do was read, whereas with "Firecombe Manor" I had to force myself to pick up the book. Perhaps I'm in the minority here, but I'd advise you not to be pulled in by the charming and intriguing cover and skip this one.

P.S. Another (minor but sort of annoying) problem I had was that I could never figure out how to pronounce "fiercombe." Is it fier like fire or fier like pier?

P.P.S. I do have a quotable quote to share that sums up nicely how I feel about old houses: "Fiercombe Manor is one of those houses people have always been fascinated by...You glimpse places like it sometimes, usually from a train window. Lonely houses tucked into the countryside, almost hidden in the folds of the hills. You wonder who lives in them, what's happened in their history."

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