Anna and her family are Russian nobles, refugees from the civil war that tears their country apart in the middle of World War I. They go to England, where Anna takes up as a housemaid at Mersham, an elegant estate full of personality. Rupert is the young new Earl of Westerholme and reluctant owner of Mersham, just discharged from the hospital where he recovered from a plane crash, and where he has found his fiancee, a pretty young lady named Muriel Hardwicke. Muriel, an orphan, has money but no connections, and is determined to get them by marrying Rupert, whose family has no physical or mental flaws that she knows of.
As Anna flies about Mersham determinedly carrying out her duties and endearing herself to all of the staff there, Rupert can't help but be attracted to her. And everyone in the house and out is beginning to realize how stuck-up and purist Muriel is. Her demands for physical, mental, and genetic perfection put many of Mersham's help in danger of losing their positions, their entire family. Can Anna's friends, everyone at Mersham, come up with a plan to save the day?
It has been a long time since I have read a refreshingly straightforward fairy tale. Anna is a resourceful and delightful female protagonist. I could've wanted more interaction between Anna and Rupert, but is the delightful way that Eva Ibbotson draws up her cast of characters that really make this simple story shine.
BRAVO to the author is what I thought when I was done with this book. It was just a fabulous fun book! Near the end it had me laughing out loud at the characters wonderful antics. Good book to have read!
Reviewed by Amber Gibson for TeensReadToo.com
Anna Grazinsky is a member of the Russian aristocracy, or White Russians, during the Russian Revolution. Her family is forced to flee from their comfortable life in Russia to England, where they are safe from the revolutionaries. But in England, the Grazinskys are left with nothing. Anna has a very resilient spirit, and instead of moping around and wishing for her old life, she is grateful for the safety of her family and secretly takes a job as a maid so that her little brother can still attend school. With her take-charge attitude, Anna proves that not all rich girls are snobby brats, like modern heiresses lead us to believe.
While many of the servants at the Westerholme residence are skeptical of the new foreign girl, Anna quickly charms her way into their hearts. With her deep curtsies, bright smile, and cheerful demeanor, Anna is beloved by all. She does each task assigned to her as best she can, never slacking on the job.
When the young and handsome Earl of Westerholme returns home from World War I, Anna is immediately drawn to him. And it seems that he feels a similar attraction to her. But Anna's identity as a countess is still a secret, and she does not have the social standing that she once held in Russia. Plus, the Earl is already engaged to the beautiful but vicious Muriel Hardwicke. Muriel nursed Earl Rupert back to health when he was wounded in the war, and he proposed to her. But that was before he met Anna.
In the weeks leading up to the wedding, Muriel begins to take over the Westerholme household, arbitrarily firing servants that do not fit in with her vision for Westerholme. None of the servants or neighbors are fond of Muriel, and as the wedding date approaches, all of Rupert's friends and family are leery of the impending marriage.
At the costume ball thrown prior to the wedding, Anna's true identity as a countess is revealed, and Anna and Rupert dance the night away. Everyone can see that they are a perfect couple, but can Rupert and Anna come to terms with their feelings for each other before his marriage to Muriel?
Although A COUNTESS BELOW STAIRS has a very fairytale-like romantic plot, Anna is far from the typical princess. She has a feisty spirit and genuinely fun personality that immediately draws you in. Eva Ibbotson does a great job in breathing life into the generic fairytale plot. Anna's story is very similar to what much of the Russian aristocracy experienced during the communist revolution, and Ibbotson shows that even though life is unpredictable and rarely kind, if you embrace all opportunities and make the most of your situation, you will find happiness.
I was looking for some light, feel-good reading and I found it! This is a typical riches-to-rags-to-riches Cinderella plot with clear-cut antagonists (eugenicists) and a likable heroine. Don't expect any literary feats or serious plot twists: this book is as uncomplicated as they come.
A very fun and light read, thoroughly enjoyed it!