Rating: 5 out of 5 stars, Special Shelf
I had an irrational aversion to Eva Ibbotson's books (I though they'd be boring and the high page counts scared me) until Ruby convinced me to read this one with her and just like that, I was a super fan.
This book is just so utterly charming. The good characters are pure and wonderful, but in a way like a fairy tale not like a Mary Sue. The evil characters are straight up evil (though there is still a degree of nuanced depth to their characterizations) it was easy and fun to loathe them. The black and white of the characters made me feel like I had transported back to the comfort of childhood.
Which is not to say that the characters were flat or simplistic. They stand out in my memory, even the tiny asides and little scenes have stuck with me and continue to delight. My conversations with Ruby were of the gasping "Oh my gosh, that scene!" "Totally! And that character! Can you believe what they said?!" "Pupkin!" variety.
As for plot, it reads so fast and easy. There's the sweet sigh-inducing central romance (which could be a Disney princess movie, and that's a very good thing) and all of the side stories swirl around this. Everything builds to create a Downton Abbey-esque atmosphere where you're following a huge cast of characters and they all manage to stand out.
The historical setting frames everything and is surprisingly detailed. It's like a sly historical fiction book—you think you're reading a light fairy tale, but you're actually getting the education of historical fiction with zero work.
It feels strange to describe a book as light and frothy while also substantive and weighty, but Eva Ibbotson has definitely struck that balance. I absolutely adored this book and can't believe I ever doubted Eva Ibbotson. Highly recommended, especially to fans of Downton Abbey and Anne of Green Gables.
Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key________________________________