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February 11, 2020

Above the Bay of Angels by Rhys Bowen ~ a Review

by Donna Huber

London, September 1896
If Helen Barton hadn't stepped out in front of an omnibus, I might still be sweeping floors and lighting fires at an ostentatious house in St John's Wood. But for once I had followed my father's advice. (p.1)

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

February 2020; Lake Union Publishing
audio, ebook, print (347 pages)
historical fiction
I discovered Rhys Bowen through her 1930s Her Royal Spyness Mysteries series, but I think I like her stand-alone historical novels a little more. I've read them all except for In Farleigh Field (though it is on my ereader). Among her stand-alone novels, Above the Bay of Angels is a little different. The others I've read have revolved somehow around WWI or WWII. This novel is set in Victorian England and features a main character whose family has fallen from the ranks of the aristocracy.

While there is a little bit of a mystery towards the end of the story, Above the Bay of Angels is definitely a character-driven drama.

Bella is the oldest daughter of a man who was the second son of an earl. After his schooling, he held a military commission in India but his wife could not tolerate the climate and they moved back to England where he found a decent job at the Savoy Hotel (it would be a decent job to us but in Victorian England it is a bit disgraceful for a member of the peerage). He consoled himself with a bottle and soon found himself without a job. After the death of his wife and no means of support himself, he sent his eldest daughter into service to support himself and her younger sister. Needless to say, Bella is not happy about being "sold" into servitude. Her placement in a home a nouveau riche family just adds to the insult.

With her father dead and her sister engaged to a well-to-do tradesman, Bella finds her earnings her own for the first time. She decides to treat herself to tea at Fortnum & Mason. It turns out to be her lucky day. As she goes to cross the street. a young woman is struck by a hansom carriage. Bella rushes to comfort the dying woman and the woman thrusts a letter into Bella's hand and whispers her last words, "Tell the Palace". The woman, a cook, had just received word that she had been granted an interview to work in Queen Victoria's kitchen. Bella is also a cook and knows that this is the only way out of the house she currently works in. But what will happen if they discover Bella isn't really Helen Barton?

As a fan of both Downton Abbey and Victoria, I enjoyed the story.

Bella is a delightful character. While she is living a lie, she also tries to do the right thing. Her struggle of finding happiness in her circumstances is a familiar struggle. Readers will identify with Bella as she attempts to discover what she truly wants in life. Does she want to be her own person, perhaps own a restaurant, or does she want to be restored to her rightful place in society with a title included?

Bella's fellow servants in the palace are interesting and serve to provide opportunities for Bella to grow as a person. The backdrop of the French Riveria is lovely. The description of the market is detailed and appeals to all the senses that it feels like you are there.

Everything is wrapped up nicely and Bella gets a happily-ever-after. Though things perhaps work out a little too neatly. However, I loved Bella so much that I overlooked the improbability of everything working out so well for her in the end.

Above the Bay of Angels is a lovely, little story that fans of Victoria will love. You will fall in love with Bella and won't be ready to say goodbye to the character when you finish the last page.  

Buy Above the Bay of Angels at Amazon

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

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  1. A great author, often featured on my blog too! So pleased you enjoyed this one :) - Here's my Tuesday Post! HAPPY TUESDAY!

  2. This is a new to me title. Bowen is a good storyteller--and I love the settings and eras she uses in her novels.

  3. Interesting snippet. I definitely want to know more. Thanks for sharing, and here's mine: “PERFECT LITTLE CHILDREN”

  4. enjoyed the review and love your banner
    sherry @ fundinmental