THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS.
If you would like to read the review without spoilers, please go to Goodreads (here), where I have tagged major plot points under spoiler tags.
Trigger Warning: This review contains references to sexual assault and may be disturbing to readers,
Redway Acres: Book Two – Maria was written by Trish Butler and published 16 July 2016.
“Set in 1800s England, Maria Wyndham is the younger and more vivacious, twin stepdaughter of the late Lieutenant Mark Wyndham.
After their mother’s death, she and her sister, Harriet, move to Eastease in Lincolnshire, and become wards of the lieutenant’s friend, Alexander Harker, and his cousin, Nathaniel Ackley.
Just in time for ball for the twins’ sixteenth Birthday, a friend of their stepfather and guardians, Robert Davenport, arrives to lavish them with gifts and to dance.
Family and friendship bonds are pushed to the limit, as Maria’s story plays out. She finds her strength of will to survive and pursue the happiness of true love.
Maria’s silliness and love of life, often hide her intelligence and loyalty, in this story of sisters, and a girl, too soon pushed into the world of a woman.”*
I was provided a complementary copy of Maria to review. It in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion/review of the book.
It was both a pleasure and an honour to dive back into the world of Redway Acres. The entire crew is back and kind of better. Of course, because this is a novel (and series) filled to the brim with drama, the smooth sailing doesn’t last very long.
In all honesty, I underestimated Butler.
The twists (yes, there are multiple) in this novel were sublime. There’s no way to convey my thoughts without actually saying the twist:
Or, specifically, Harriet-as-Maria dies.
Yes, there is a The Parent Trap twist here, which made for a very confusing scene. Maria has a tryst with Robert Davenport, who then runs off to whisk away her twin Harriet. When Davenport turns out to be abusive in more ways than one, a desolate Harriet runs back home to Eastease. It is then revealed that Harriet and Maria were actually…well…not Harriet and Maria. While Harriet ran, Maria assumed Harriet’s identity, leaving Eastease to believe Maria ran off while Harriet stayed home.
Harriet leaves Eastease with Davenport.
Maria, back at Eastease, assumes Harriet’s identity.
Harriet (now Mrs Davenport) returns to Eastease.
Harriet and Maria officially switch identities to make Davenport think he actually ran off with Maria, not Harriet, prompting an annulment.
So now Maria is Harriet and Harriet is Maria.
So, Harriet-now-Maria is viciously murdered by her husband, while pregnant. Helena then performs an impromptu C-section and cuts the unborn baby out of Harriet-now-Maria. This leaves Maria-as-Harriet as the sole surviving twin. Thus, only Harriet is alive.
If you were wondering what prompted me to explain the entire situation to you, it’s because of my above statement: I underestimated Butler.
After Nathanial merely losing his leg in the first novel when it seemed like he was close to losing his life, I formed a (very wrong) assumption that Butler was not an author willing to kill off the characters she had crafted. Each character was painstakingly built up in the first two novels, and it would be a pretty terrible thing if one of them were to die.
And they did.
I’m amazed, really. the twist was so unexpected that I put the book down and walked away. The tragedy of real-Harriet’s death was simply shocking. There are some people in this world who rarely see a stroke of good luck in their lives, and real-Harriet is a perfect representation of that. To see a character so nuanced and so completely forlorn is disheartening. Books are not reality, but Redway Acres as a series mirrors life in such a way that you can’t help but hurt for the characters as if they were human. The Wyndham women die young. There is no other way to put it.
Keeping on that dark track, Maria faces darker demons than it’s predecessor. Redway Acres is no stranger to sexual assault and rape. Keeping on that theme, statutory rape is a prominent issue featured in Maria. At first, I was unsure of the portrayal. It seemed glamorized, with fine food, freshly picked wildflowers, and promises of the future. So I was skeptical. But, ever the voice of reason, Helena steps in to tell Harriet that she was taken advantage of, all while relaying her own past. It was a bright spot in the novel, and the attention brought to such a serious issue was handled with grace and the utmost seriousness. I’m so, so grateful for the portrayal. The book was elevated because of it.
Sexuality is also addressed in Maria. As the novel is set in the 1800s, anything or anyone that deviated from the straight and narrow (with an emphasis on the ‘straight’), it could be very easy to allow homophobia to run rampant. (S): The main antagonist in Maria happens to be a gay man. Thankfully, since correlation does not always equal causation, Davenport’s sexuality is merely another addition to his character, the same way Helena has red hair and Nathanial is missing a leg. Butler has taken the best of the 1800s and injected modern opinions into it without them ever feeling out of place or preachy.
Also, Butler knows how to write a sex scene. That’s all.
Unfortunately, there are minor technical issues in Maria that need to be addressed, such as:
His staff had, done a superb job. (47)
“I need that one two, please.” (185)
She had collapse upon arrival. (263)
Or even and early death. (268)
At one point, the Harriet and Maria names do get switched up incorrectly. It makes sense, considering the whole situation is twister for the mind, but it does need to be addressed. (227, 259)
Also, at one point the Colonel was referred to as a “colonial” which had me laughing much harder than I care to admit. Even thinking about it now has me giggling.
And while I’m on the topic of the
colonial Colonel, I never thought I’d be able to get enough of him and Helena. However, I was wrong. The couple is incredible, and I’ll always have a soft spot for them, but the book is called Maria for a reason. At times, the Helena and Nathanial show seemed to overshadow the simple beauty of the rest of the story.
In fact, while I was a total champion of the romance in Helena, the main relationship in Maria didn’t have me convinced. Mr Brooks, the local preacher, is too stuffy to enjoy. He is completely uncomfortable with any part of the female body, and his juvenile reactions to certain situations was just generally strange. Nathanial goes so far as to give Brooks “the talk”, which caused secondhand embarrassment all around. While I suppose it could have been construed by some as cute and endearing, I just found it to be mortifyingly awkward. Going from a more-than-competent Nathanial (who’s talent is shown multiple times in this book) to a bumbling Brooks was a tough transition.
There was also a little romance between two of the older patrons of the Redway Acres/Eastease family. I’m not opposed to more romance, but this one was rushed and felt totally out of place. I never had any interest in Dom and Mrs Hubbard as characters, so seeing them together and falling in love (extremely quickly, I’ll add) just never felt genuine. (S): I suppose it worked out in the end, as Mrs Hubbard acted as a wet nurse for the late Harriet, but that was the only valuable part of the relationship. Also, Dom’s colloquialisms made his dialogue a bit of a chore to read. I found myself waiting for the scenes to end. It’s kind of like getting an ad in the middle of your Youtube video. You understand why it’s there, but you really hope the ‘skip’ button pops up.
Finally, to wrap up my “cons” on a more trivial note, Hopwood and Woodhead are two last names used frequently in the story, and it’s very confusing to differentiate.
I’m not someone who typically finds the second book of a series better than the first, but Maria proved me wrong on many different accounts. I can’t wait to crack open the third book, and I also never want to open it so I’ll always have more of Redway Acres to read. This is a series that always has me coming back for more.
4 stars out of 5.
*Blurb by Goodreads