Lady of Milkweed Manor is a debut book for new author Julie Klassen. It's a sweet story and a promising start.
A vicarís daughter from a small English town, Charlotte Lamb is kicked out of her house and cut off from her family when she commits the ultimate societal sin: Becoming pregnant without being married. Her father sends her to a manor in London for unwed mothers, many of whose lives are a far cry from her privileged, if not aristocratic, upbringing. She is further shocked and embarrassed to discover that one of the doctors at the manor is Daniel Taylor, a man with whom she had a friendship and who was refused by her father when he asked permission to court Charlotte. He has since married, but maintains an affection toward her.
While Charlotteís son Edward is born healthy, his father loses his own legitimate child, born within days of Edward. In an attempt to spare his wife grief, he asks Charlotte to give him their child to pass off as his deceased son. In the meantime, Daniel has his own struggles: His wife suffers from severe depression following the birth of their child.
There is a lot going on in this book. This summary is fairly cursory, as I donít want to spoil the events that happen earlier in the book. While this book isnít particularly long, it is somewhat saga-like in that it covers a lot of time and has several conflicts, one after another, involving the main characters. Though this book is listed as an inspirational, it isnít preachy at all - in fact, even though religion plays a role in both the characterís lives, I wouldnít have categorized it as an inspirational if the publisher hadnít already done so. Iím sure readers who donít usually read that genre would have no problem with this book.
This book covers a lot of hard topics: Unwed motherhood in Regency England, pregnancy-induced insanity, class struggles. There are some interesting Ė and somewhat horrifying Ė details that Klassen provides about the nature of houses for unwed mothers. Charlotte is a strong character, but Daniel, while heís obviously a nice guy, isnít quite as memorable.
Klassenís writing is strong overall, but has some definite lapses. Sheís a bit misleading in the beginning regarding the nature of Charlotteís pregnancy, and it was occasionally hard to keep track of the various side characters and their relationships to each other. The ending, also, is bittersweet since Klassen made it impossible to give her characters a truly happy ending, and Charlotte has to make a choice with which some people probably wouldnít agree. However, she does her best to make it as complete as possible.
This is a strong start for Klassen. Though this book does have some flaws, itís a good start. Iíll be looking at her in the future.
-- Jane Granville
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