Ruby May is a Norland Nanny, the most prestigious pedigree a nanny can attain. When her employers decide to emigrate to the United States, she declines the offer to go with them and seeks another post. The new post she accepts is in a rural area in the West Riding of Yorkshire.
Many changes accompany her new position. She is to care for four children this time instead of one. Also, she is to live in Hardcastle House, an isolated home situated uphill from the cotton mill that is owned by her employer, Mr. Charles England.Her employer is warmly charming and personable. His wife, Mrs. England, on the other hand, is quite withdrawn and seemingly not interested in her children. She rarely leaves the house, and spends an inordinate amount of time in her bedroom.
Nurse May is immediately taken with the children, all of whom quickly worm their way into her heart. Despite her affection for them, she is extremely lonely. Her position as Nurse puts her in the limbo land of being neither family, nor servant, thus leaving her friendless.
“I’d never lived in the country, had never spent a night in it, and thought it a stinging, biting, changeable place.”
As the weeks pass, Nurse May realizes that Hardcastle House is the holder of many secrets. Mr. England hints that his wife is very weak, forgetful, and perhaps even dangerous.
Ruby desperately misses her siblings and her home in Birmingham. Her younger sister, Elsie, has health problems and Ruby sends money home to help with the doctor’s bills.
Meanwhile, Ruby May has a secret of her own. A secret so momentous that she doesn’t want anyone to ever find out about it. When a photographer comes to Hardcastle House to photograph the England family she is frightened that her secret might get out.
With its gothic setting, its captivating protagonist, and its plethora of family secrets, paranoia, and deception, this was exactly my kind of novel.
Expert characterization coupled with a plot rife with menace and ‘gaslighting’, ensured that I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.
This story was a well researched snap-shot of Edwardian society with all of its class divides and its gender inequality. It made me uncomfortable in places, especially when the doors were locked down at night…
I thoroughly enjoyed Nurse May’s rapport with the England children. She was industrious, yet she never skimped on them having fun and using their imaginations.
The ending was a trifle enigmatic and obscure – though I felt it fit the book perfectly. It causes the reader to reread it… and wonder…
In short, I loved “Mrs. England”, and Nurse Ruby May. The time spent in their company was an enjoyable one. Now I’m desperate to read this author’s previous two titles.
This review was written voluntarily and my rating was in no way influenced by the fact that I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from MIRA/Harlequin Trade Publishing via NetGalley. I was invited to join the blog tour on publication day by Justine Sha. I was disappointed to find that the “Author’s Note” which I’ve heard explains a lot – was NOT included in the NetGalley ARC copy. If anyone would like to let me know what the “Author’s Note” divulged, please drop me an email.
Stacey Halls was born in 1989 and grew up in Lancashire. She studied journalism at the University of Central Lancashire and has written for publications including the Guardian, Stylist, Psychologies, The Independent, The Sun and Fabulous.
Her first book The Familiars was the bestselling debut novel of 2019. The Foundling (also published as The Lost Orphan) was her popular second novel. Mrs. England is her third novel.