Postponing her enrollment in medical school, Abi Hadley decides to apply for servanthood for the Jardines, one of England’s greatest families. All commoners must serve the Equals (aristocrats with magical gifts) for ten years, and at least this way her family will all do their years together. But the grand Kyneston estate denies Abi’s brother Luke, and he is enslaved in a brutal factory town, where he falls into a small group working toward rebellion. Abi must find a way to reunite Luke with the family, but she soon falls for one of the noble-born sons.
Similar to other popular YA dystopias, this alternate history fantasy features a society of the prosperous and the poor, and those without Skill are forced to slave away in terrible conditions. Although the setting is modern day, the life on the estate feels quite Victorian, but not in a bad way (see servant gossip, upstairs/downstairs politics, power struggles among the most wealthy, and opulent character names like Parva, Bodina, Bouda, and Cadmus). The multiple POV chapters, each with their own cliffhangers, practically turn the pages by themselves, swiftly moving towards an exciting revolution.
The intrinsic love of the Hadley family (Abi and Luke) is juxaposed against the cunning and power-hungry Jardines, but whereas I feel the distance between the Jardines, more time should be spent setting up the motivations of the Hadley parents. The fact that they are “family” does little to prove their assumed connection, so their separation is less meaningful. Then, there’s the romance between the “smart” female character, Abi, and the middle son of the Jardines. As far as I can tell, Abi falls for her master because he’s well dressed and nice… to his slave. Although the concept of ten years of slavery is intriguing, I am still not sure how the system of power came to be, or why the Hadley family is shocked by it’s cruelty.
Recommended for fans of British YA dystopias!
“I woulda got out of there just fine, but thanks for trying. It’s not everyone would risk making and enemy of those two, so you’re either very brave or very stupid. Which is it?”
Her muddy brown eyes assessed him. “Ach, it’s neither. You’re just very new.” She let out a throaty cackle, sounding older than her years. “Welcome to Millmoor. What’s your name?”