Review: Rutherford Park by Elizabeth Cooke

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For the Cavendish family, Rutherford Park is much more than a place to call home. It is a way of life marked by rigid rules and lavish rewards, governed by unspoken desires…
 
Lady of the house Octavia Cavendish lives like a bird in a gilded cage. With her family’s fortune, her husband, William, has made significant additions to the estate, but he too feels bound—by the obligations of his title as well as his vows. Their son, Harry, is expected to follow in his footsteps, but the boy has dreams of his own, like pursuing the new adventure of aerial flight. Meanwhile, below stairs, a housemaid named Emily holds a secret that could undo the Cavendish name.
 
On Christmas Eve 1913, Octavia catches a glimpse of her husband in an intimate moment with his beautiful and scandalous distant cousin. She then spies the housemaid Emily out in the snow, walking toward the river, about to make her own secret known to the world. As the clouds of war gather on the horizon, an epic tale of longing and betrayal is about to unfold at Rutherford Park…

This is a book where I didn’t necessarily like a lot of the characters. A few of the servants were sympathetic and likable, but for the most part all of the main characters are flawed, some to the point of me really disliking them. Patriarch William is a man of his time in his view of his wife and her duty to him and takes little consideration of her feels in anything. The son, Harry, impregnates and abandons a house maid, leading to her suicide. While he’s shown to have guilt over the situation afterwards, the focus is more on how the guilt affects his life and not on him trying to make right the situation he caused. Matriarch Octavia is probably the most sympathetic as she was bullied by an unloving father only to be pushed into a marriage with a man who valued a timid, wealthy wife more than making it known that he actually cared for her. Oldest daughter Louisa is naive and flighty and her uninformed bad choices lead to the culminating crisis of the book. Even the servants aren’t all that likable. The head housemaid is jealous and cruel. One of the butlers is a bully and thorough villain. All of the women in charge of the house including Octavia are shown in a less than flattering light when the pregnant maid’s attempted suicide is more a concern for them because of how it looks rather than what caused the situation.

That all being said, the book itself is a good story. As unlikable characters go, most of them end up being faced with the error of their behaviors, none so more than Louisa. The revenge crafted by the son of William’s former lover is brutal and brilliant in its cruelty. Octavia is able to use her disappointment in her husband to gain more freedom and confidence in herself. One the whole this is an interesting family saga that features a lot of the same dynamic that has made Downton Abbey so popular.

4 out of 5

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