“The Secret Countess” by Eva Ibbotson

21oquxoxogl__aa_sl160_.jpg“The Secret Countess” by Eva Ibbotson (YA romance) – I finished this about a week ago and absolutely loved it.  Anna is a Russian refugee, who has fled to England with her mother and brother after the Revolution.  Forced to take up a job as a housemaid to help support her family, she falls in love with her employee, the Earl of Westerholme.  The Earl, however, needs to marry money in order to save his estate from ruin, and has just announced his engagement to an heiress. 

(Fuller plot description and review here on Jennie’s blog, which inspired me to read this book in the first place.)

So nothing too earth-shattering in terms of plot – I bet there are hundreds of romances out there with the same premise.  But this book is in no way a standard romance.  In many ways, this reminded me of a fairytale, especially with Ms Ibbotson’s beautiful and lyrical writing.  I was completely caught up in the story, and fell in love with Anna and her oh-so-Russian pragmatic yet dramatic outlook on life.

It would have been easy to Anna to become a bit of a Pollyanna, but she doesn’t, even though her joy for life and living came through so strongly.  The secondary characters were so richly-drawn – you felt as though you knew each and everyone of them – and, oh, wasn’t Muriel just horrible?  I was just dying for Rupert to come back and kick her out.  And the ending made me laugh – it was the perfect way to resolve the conflict, IMO. 

I suppose if I had any criticisms, it would be that everything is very black-and-white, that the good characters are perfect and the bad ones, really bad.  And I’m not so sure about the uncle who likes an innocent fumble with the housemaids and the understanding housemaids who let him have his fun.  That didn’t quite work for me.

But these are minor quibbles – this book is an example of YA romance done right.  A straight A for me, and I’m going to track down Ms Ibbotson’s “A Company of Swans” next. 

PS:  I’m trying to decide whether this title “The Secret Countess” or the alternate title “The Countess Below Stairs” works best.  And I still can’t decide.  Maybe the latter, because it’s less run-of-the-mill. 

PPS:  It doesn’t come out so well here, but the cover is beautiful.  The gold filigree edging is done in gilt.  And the cover model actually looks like how I picture Anna in my mind.

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32 thoughts on ““The Secret Countess” by Eva Ibbotson

  1. YAY! I’m so glad you liked it. Anna’s just so likable. I agree with you on the very perfect good guys and the awful bad guys–but as it’s such a fairy tale it works, I think. Muriel is a great villain. 😉

    And I think I like the title Countess Below Stairs better (I just like the term “below stairs” for some reason, so very English) but I like your cover better than the US edition that just came out.

    Company of Swans is great too, and I just finished another one, The Morning Gift, that was excellent too. (I’ll get around to doing a review at some point.)

  2. I just got an Amazon gift certificate, so am looking at her backlist now. “Company of Swans” is marked as unavailable right now (despite a reprint date of 6 Sept 2007!), maybe I’ll get “A Song for Summer” and “The Star of Kazan” as well as “The Morning Gift”, which will be reissued in Oct. Or maybe I’ll venture out to my local library, which is normally woefully understocked, but may have these books…

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  4. Oh My Goodness, the best book I have read in I don’t know how long! It was so romantic yet had another story going on along with the romance.
    I thought the ending was the best part. I agree with you, it was teh best way to resolve the conflict!
    The prologue at the start was a bit hard to understand, but you grasp it.
    I just love Anna and her loyalty. She was in no way posh.
    I

  5. Sorry about that.
    I love the way Ms Ibbotson wrote it as gradual way. My favorite part of the book was the engagement ball and Rupert and Anna dancing and her not being a servant and him announcing his love for her. Then the big uproar at the dinner.
    WWWOOOWWW
    LOVED THIS BOOK!

  6. i don’t know about you, but i find that all of Eva Ibbotson’s lead female characters are extremely similar. it’s so weird because they all are very innocent, polite smart and fragile. it’s so strange becuase i’ve read all her books and it’s like it’s like Anna but as a different person in all of them. i love eva ibbotson though, despite the girls being so alike they are my favourite books and she’s a fabulous writer.

  7. Ari – Interesting point. I’ve read three of her books so far – this one, The Morning Gift, and A Company of Swans. I think there are definitely similarities between her heroines, but at the same time, I’m not reminded of previous heroines when reading new books. It’s more her writing style and language that reminds me of previous books.

  8. This book was so beautiful – a real pleasure to read. Though Anna and all the other characters were really well written, I think Eva Ibbotson really shone through Muriel.

    It’s a rare thing for me to hate, truly hate, a character but I honestly wished Muriel would sink into the ground. At the wedding dress fitting, when she smashes Ollies’ feelings, I had to put down the book and recollect myself.

    I love Ibbotson’s style of writting. My favourite part is Chapter 13 (p.271), “…but this was no romance. It was a moment in a lifeboat before it sank beneath the waves; a walk across the sunlit courtyard towards the firing squad. This waltz was all they had.”

    That is so beautiful. I remembered that all by heart…it’s just so gorgeous! I haven’t read any of her other stuff, but I really think I should. This book really brightened my day.

    Snaps for Eva Ibbotson!

  9. Amber – I detested Muriel as well! I just wanted Rupert to realise what a horrible person she was and kick her out of his life.

    Re her other books, I’ve loved “The Morning Gift”, with “A Company of Swans” coming a close second.

  10. OMG! i loved this book SO much 🙂
    i am doing it as my historical fiction book report for english! whoo i loved it!

    i really want to read The Morning Gift and A Company of Swans.

    oh and i also loved the cover with the gold border sorta thing hahha!

  11. Fantastic, but I’d avise a choice to look up other books, the comment for The Sectret Countess reminded me of another book I love and I wanted to look it up on your wedsir but I couldn’t.
    Thank you, ME(I don’t wanna put a name)

  12. this was like thebest book ever!!!!!! i loved it when rupert and anna danced together and at the uproar at the dinner THE BEST BOOK EVER!!!!!!

  13. A beautiful book. I really love books that have anything to do with Russia and this was perfect. You’re right about the similar heroines, cause they’re always really good and kind. I can’t think of any way in which it could have been better. I love Mz Ibbotson’s books cause I can always count on them to give me a happy ever after. It made me cry so many times.

  14. Samena – Rupert and Anna have a wonderful relationship 🙂

    Cat – I really enjoyed the Russian angle, it’s not something that’s common. It’s the perfect feel-good book, isn’t it?

    • Sharry – I’ve read “The Morning Gift” and “A Company of Swans” (and loved both of them). But no, I haven’t read Journey to the River Sea – have you read it?

      • Yes I have! It was pretty good. But, I haven’t read any of her other books so I don’t know if it was any better then this one!

      • I loved “The Secret Countess”, as you’ve probably guessed. It is a proper feel-good book, a definite rec from me, especially if you’ve enjoyed another of her books before.

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  16. Hey, Ms Ibbotson is one of my favorites. I do agree that her characters are simmilare, but i think that all the detail, that is sort of half hidden so its not boring, and the beatiful style compleately makes up for it. is so lilting and she uses a massive vocbulary, which i love. It is so not the-cat-sat-on-the-mat. i have read Journey to the river sea, a company of swans, a song for summer and quite a few of the ghost stories. they are good books to read in the bath. i spend all of my pocket monney on books and ive run out, and as my library is mildly useless, ill have to get the rest later. i hate suspense.

  17. I’m reading this book that I brought from England (I’m from argentina, that’s why my english is really poor). I had read it since a week and I’m very enganged with it !
    Then, I will pass it to one of my friends, a classmate who also wanted to read it.
    I hope that the Secret Countess is so magnificant as all of you have already said!

    saludos,
    luli

  18. Luciana – This was my first Eva Ibbotson book and I completely loved it, it captured me from the very first pages as well. I’m hoping that you love it as much as I did.

  19. this was a really great book but sometimes hard to understand. i am 11 years old and i have to read this for school. it has a great story line, i really enjoyed it. i seriously hate muriel, she is so cruel to everyone- what a spoiled brat!! honerable ollie sounds adorable, its so sad when muriel calls her crippled 😦 great book-

    * * * * 4/5 stars

  20. Celine – I’m glad you enjoyed it! It’s been quite a while since I’ve read it now, but I completely agree that Muriel was detestable and Ibbotson really got me rooting for the good guys.

  21. dis bk is absolutely awesum!!! the imp part is dat i like d way of Russian aristocracy way of living, their names lke Petya, Grazinsky,Annoushka ,Sergie etc.yaar, i agree dat “countess below Stairs” wld be a better title as its sumthing like more enchanting title….. suggest every1 2 read it. it is more lke a fairy tale n quite innocent…frm my rupert is quite handsum but he really act stupid or childish in sum case.

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  23. Hi, love the review. I was just reading the comment on how all the main girls are practically the same. it’s so true! this book is the best, though. her kind of character doesn’t belong to the brits.

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