Life—and melodrama—upstairs and downstairs at a Yorkshire stately home, as World War I nears.
Sound familiar? Cavendon, however, lacks the tension that launched Downton Abbey to such acclaim. The estate is not threatened: Primogeniture is working just fine, given that Charles Ingham, sixth Earl of Mowbray, has two sons in addition to his four daughters; and the fiefdom is certainly not broke. Moreover, the Inghams have another advantage the Crawleys lack: the Swann family, whose members have, for more than 160 years, sworn to protect and serve them. Now, Walter Swann is the Earl's staunch valet; his wife, Alice, and daughter Cecily see to matters of décor and wardrobe; Swann matriarch Charlotte (the Earl’s friend from childhood) is de facto estate manager; and her nephew Percy supervises Cavendon’s extensive grounds as gamekeeper. Into this latter-day feudal utopia some trouble must fall, and it's introduced when Daphne, loveliest of the Earl’s daughters, is raped by Richard, the eldest son of a neighboring family of country squires. At first advised by the Swanns to say nothing of her violation, secrecy is no longer possible once Daphne realizes she's pregnant. To avert scandal, plans are made to send Daphne abroad, which are soon mooted when second cousin Hugo Stanton—a vastly wealthy, good-hearted tycoon once wrongfully exiled from the family—returns and falls in love with Daphne at first sight. A hasty marriage ensues. Other conflicts emerge almost as afterthoughts to swathes of pages devoted to Bradford’s usual meticulous inventories of gracious living. Although Richard is clearly behind a number of sinister events, the motivation for his villainy is never explored. Such a vague antagonist does nothing to undermine the book’s deep conviction that no crisis is insurmountable given loyal friends, splendid furnishings and unlimited funds.
Not even the Great War can jar this novel out of its stalwart complacency.