1863, Victorian England.
Susan Mottram lives an idyllic existence until her eighteenth birthday, when her father’s sudden death plunges the family into penury. To support her mother and younger sister, Susan takes employment as a teacher at a remote Yorkshire boarding school, Matterdale Hall, owned by the radical Dr. Claybourn and his penny-pinching wife. Susan soon discovers that all is not as it seems. Why is little Mary so silent? What really happened to Susan’s predecessor? Is anyone safe in the school’s draughty halls?
Through a life-changing meeting with the beautiful and mysterious Cassandra, Susan begins to uncover the truth about Matterdale Hall, and discovers the cruelty, and love, that can lie within the human heart.
The Secret of Matterdale Hall is a gothic historical novel with LGBTQ characters. Cassandra is also mixed race and deaf.
I felt sorry for Susan the moment she stepped foot into Matterdale Hall. It was clear from the outset that the people there were as dreary and cold, as the building. The only consolation was the children who were very endearing, especially Mary.
Susan seemed to find plenty to investigate in the beginning. Her impressionable imagination fuelled by her love of gothic novels led to hasty conclusions about Cassandra and the people at Heathersage Manor but fortunately the beginning of a lovely friendship.
There are very few likeable characters aside from Cassandra, Susan and the children which lends itself well to establishing a dark, tense atmosphere. Mr Claybourn is a mad scientist and Mrs Claybourn is miserable and nasty. Add in a missing teacher and the lunatics in Dr Claybourn's asylum and you have the recipe for a dark, mysterious story.
I loved how tense and dramatic it developed towards the end. The true secrets and horrors of Matterdale Hall were revealed after a lot of suspense. The narration is told from both Cassandra's and Susans's points of view at this stage and it was easy to feel their helplessness and worry.
The book may be predictable but it's a lovely and gentle read despite its gothic undertones. The romance is low key which allowed more focus on the plot and drama. A difficult book to put down once started.
The Secret of Matterdale Hall is out now. Amazon