The Pearl and the Carnelian

The Pearl and the Carnelian

The Pearl and the Carnelian is a rich and detailed historical novel set in 1930s Britain that explores just how far some people will go in pursuit of their desires.

The year is 1934 and it is a time of major political and social upheaval. Over in Europe, Hitler is rapidly gaining power while back in the UK the fascists are also mobilising themselves under the leadership of aristocrat Oswald Mosley.

Coming from a poor background, Hester Blake is excited to be leaving her Northern industrial hometown to take a job as a lady's maid to the enigmatic Lady Lucy Fitzmartin.

She arrives with the hope that her new position to the 19-year-old Lady Lucy will lead to a life of travel and glamour. But despite doing their best to keep up appearances of grandeur, it soon becomes apparent that the Fitzmartins' fortunes are fading, and mistrust, resentment and barely-concealed contempt are as much a part of family life as grand society balls.

Amid the familial coldness, Lucy is quick to confide in Hester, and the pair soon become much more to each other. A budding writer who fills her time writing frothy society columns, Lucy harbours ambitions to be more than another pretty face.

She hopes to achieve greater literary acclaim with the novel she is secretly writing, to understand the ways of the world and to live independently from the family she so deeply resents.

Hester begins an illicit affair with her mistress, but it is all too apparent to the maid that the wide gap in their respective social positions will not be passed aside by her lover.

With war clouds looming, Lucy is attracted to the extremist views of Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists, coming to believe that by forging bonds with the Nazi party, she is acting in her country's best interests.

It is a grossly flawed and naive view, driven more by her ruthless need to feel important in world affairs, but Hester is unable to talk Lucy down given that she is, after all, only a domestic servant.

The Pearl and the Carnelian is an engrossing novel for those who appreciate intelligent and well-researched historical fiction.

While the uneven romance between Hester and Lucy is a key part of the story, the bigger themes of attraction to power, xenophobia and class prejudice are also very much prevalent throughout.

The author is clearly fascinated with the era, which is captured perfectly in its creeping paranoia and unrest. Troublingly, there are many parallels between then and now, and the novel asks pertinent questions about how hatred and distrust can seize and overwhelm a nation.

It may be too troubling and close for some, but for those who have been drawn in by Downton Abbey, Tipping the Velvet, or even House of Cards and its exploration of the intoxicating quality of power, there will be much to enjoy here.

The Pearl and the Carnelian by Annabel Fielding is out now, priced £12.30 in paperback and £4.61 as an eBook.