Leila Rasheed’s At Somerton books are frothy, funny and hugely entertaining: They’re basically Downton Abbey as imagined by the CW. I love them, and am anxiously awaiting the third book in the series. As Diamonds & Deceit only just came out this month, though, it’s going to be a while. So! I was very excited to discover that Katherine Longshore—the author of Gilt, a steamy and lush story about Catherine Howard’s short reign as Queen of England—had thrown her hat into the Upstairs, Downstairs ring. After all, in addition to its other attractive qualities, Gilt features characters who are complicated and well-rounded, plotting that provides lots of tension and surprises (even to those of us who already know the outcome of Catherine’s story), and while Longshore writes about her subject with sympathy, she doesn’t shy away from imagining her in an occasionally less-than-flattering light.
With all that in mind, Manor of Secrets was especially disappointing. In terms of character, of situation, of overall plot, it’s actually less nuanced than the Rasheed books—which is saying something—and despite lots of period details, it never swept me away to another place in another time. Rather than going on and on and on about how and why it didn’t work for me, though, let’s look at a few other Downton Abbey readalikes:
A Countess Below Stairs, by Eva Ibbotson: THIS. This is one of those books that I love so much that I want to sleep with it under my pillow. A young countess escapes Russia, penniless but physically intact, and gets a job working as a servant in England. It doesn’t take long for the entire family to A) realize that she’s clearly Of Noble Parentage and B) infinitely lovable. If you’ve never read Ibbotson’s romances, YOU ARE IN FOR A TREAT.
The Watch that Ends the Night, by Allan Wolf: I’ve been meaning to read this much-lauded book about the sinking of the Titanic for years now. The story of the tragedy is told through multiple perspectives and voices—spanning economic class, survivor status and even species—and everything I’ve read about it suggests that it’s beautifully written, completely engrossing and profoundly moving. If you’re looking for a Titanic story more in the light-and-semi-ridiculous-but-in-a-GOOD-way vein, may I recommend Richard Peck’s Amanda/Miranda? It’s FABULOUS.
Wentworth Hall, by Abby Grahame: This one has had middling-to-not-great reviews, and it sounds soapy and extremely melodramatic and more in line with the Rasheed books than with Downton Abbey itself. But that sort of thing can be a whole lot of fun, especially if you know ahead of time what to expect (if the reviews I’ve seen are to be believed: historical inaccuracies, inane dialogue, cardboard characters). So despite the mixed reaction it’s gotten, I’m planning on reading it at some point.
Longbourn, by Jo Baker: This one is more of a stretch, as it’s set during the Regency era, rather than the Edwardian, and it’s almost entirely about the servants, rather than being about both classes. It’s a reimagining of Pride and Prejudice, but it’s a behind-the-scenes view: Unlike most other reboots and sequels and prequels and mashups I’ve read, it’s about Baker’s own characters, rather than about Austen’s.
Got recommendations? Lay ‘em on me!
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy might be making stuff for her Etsy shop while re-watching Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5, Black Books or Twin Peaks. Well, that or she’s hanging out on Twitter. Or both.