‘Romantic, engaging and hugely satisfying’
Katie Fiorde on The Apothecary's Daughter
‘A highly-recommended novel of love, tragedy and the power of art’
Daily Mail on The Painter's Apprentice
‘Full of passion and drama . . . I was captivated by this moving, heart-warming and beautifully woven story - gripping, atmospheric, eloquently told and full of rich detail’
Kate Furnivall on The Chateau on the Lake
The House in Quill Court
Published 25th August 2016
Paperback Original | £8.99
From the multi-award-winning author of The Apothecary’s Daughter, The House in Quill Court is a gorgeously evocative Regency novel bursting with historical flavour and characters you won’t forget. If you love Philippa Gregory and Joanne Harris, you will adore Charlotte Betts.
1813. Venetia Lovell lives by the sea in Kent with her pretty, frivolous mother and idle younger brother. Venetia’s father, Theo, is an interior decorator to the rich and frequently travels away from home, leaving his sensible and artistic daughter to look after the family. Venetia designs paper hangings and she and her father often daydream about having an imaginary shop where they would display the highest quality furniture, fabrics and art to his clients.
When a handsome but antagonistic stranger, Jack Chamberlaine, arrives at the Lovell’s cottage just before Christmas bringing terrible news, Venetia’s world is turned upside-down and the family have no option but to move to London, to the House in Quill Court and begin a new life. Here, Venetia’s courage and creativity are tested to breaking point, and she discovers a love far greater than she could have ever imagined . . .
MY REVIEW OF "THE HOUSE IN QUILL COURT"
Betts is quick to establish characters and again, in keeping with the romantic genre of the book, they are enjoyably predictable. Venetia is clearly a woman before her time; she has a good understanding of finance, business and design, with the feel of a very competent, self assured young lady who takes the responsibility of looking out for her mother and brother in her stride. Like Elinor Dashwood in "Sense and Sensibility" she is the 'sense' and copes more readily with the sudden upheaval and revelation that there is no money, no income and no more house run by several servants now her father is dead. Unlike her mother.......
"'Your late husband invested heavily in a business venture and there are no savings left for you to draw upon. .......'
'Live together? Support ourselves!' Mama clapped one hand to her breast, 'We can't, it's monstrous!'"
Major Jack Chamberlaine is a brooding character who casts a shadow on their lives and continues to challenge their attempts to settle in London. Unsupportive and derisory, the tension between him and Venetia is actually quite delicious.
Betts excels in creating handsome heroes, loveable rouges and intimidating, dastardly villains. King Midas is one such unpleasant character whose reign of power and hold over Kent and London makes him as feared as the Krays.
"Kitty stared back at the man, an ice-cold shiver running down her back, just as if she'd turned over a stone and found a poisonous snake underneath. She recognised his hooded eyes and the bullyboys at his side, and broke out into a cold sweat. The last time she'd him it had been by moonlight on a windswept beach as he watched the guineas for Napoleon being loaded into the galleys, King Midas."
Once the family move to London, the story splits into two threads. Venetia and her ambitious attempts to reclaim her father's shop and turn it into a viable business venture, and then the plight of Kitty, her maid, who leaves everything she knows behind her in Kent to stay with the Lovells, then quickly falls in love, marries and witnesses a very different kind of side of London. Both girls are strong, resilient, clever, kind and likeable. It did take me a while to warm to them but once the story picked up pace I found that I was more involved in their story lines than I realised!
I think I did enjoy Kitty's story more than Veneita's and preferred her a little more as a character too.
The characters are firmly planted in the Regency era and the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars adds more tension and excitement. Any necessary historical information is deftly explained through dialogue or imagery; the descriptions of the more slum like areas are evoked effectively creating a dark, dank, dirty atmosphere that contrasts with the more luxurious houses of the more wealthy. I liked the sense of Kitty and Nat actually living in a "rat run" in which she literally could not find her way around without a guide. I also liked the detail about the fabrics, furniture, wall paper hangings and ornaments Venetia sourced for the shop. Nat, Kitty's beau, is a very helpful source of historical detail and often fills us in with any necessary details about the Napoleonic Wars, politics or crime. Betts has clearly done her homework and adds authenticity with the use of regency slang which flows through the dialogue with fluency and conviction.
While reading Betts's novel, I was reminded of other historical fictions which probably reflects her ability to create a strong sense of historical setting and identifiable characters with set roles rather than a weakness of any sort. I felt Nat's involvement with pickpockets and young orphaned children was reminiscent of "Oliver Twist" (although an exceptionally more gentle and kind version of Fagin and Sikes!) and the burglary was very like a scene from the novel.
"'Hold up your glum,' whispered Lennie. Nat opened the lantern and held it up while Lennie forced a small window. 'Up you go, Benny,' said Nat. He slid the boy's feet through the casement, gripping him by the waist. '....the key's hanging in the larder....stand on the chair to reach the top bolt.'"
Venetia reminded me of Denise from the BBC's "The Paradise" and Kitty perhaps a more diluted version of a character from a Wilkie Collins or Sarah Waters novel. This book certainly had the feel of an ITV Sunday night drama and it would be great to see it on the screen.
The second half of the novel gathers speed and the relationships between the characters become more compelling. There is plenty of tension, romance, heartache, violence and recriminations. It is quite melodramatic but actually, I found I was rather more caught up in it all than I had realised and was quite gripped by all the different dynamics between the characters. Betts cleverly pulls all the various characters - however small or large their role has been- plot lines and themes together in a way where no detail is left unaccounted. It is dramatic, fast paced, exciting and, although perhaps just a little contrived or cliched, it certainly made for a very satisfying read.
I was quite interested in the further reading list Betts acknowledged at the end of the book and one title -"Eavesdropping on Jane Austen's England" by Roy and Lesley Adkins - sounded like a good book to seek out a later stage - especially for anyone interested in this particular era.
I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a light, romantic, historical read, or for fans of a very watchable ITV-weekend-style costume drama. I did enjoy this book more than I thought I would as it is not necessarily my usual choice and I have already perused Betts back catalogue on Amazon with interest!
My thanks to Little, Brown Book Group for a copy of the novel in return for an honest review. The book will be released by Little, Brown on 25th August 2016.
MORE ABOUT CHARLOTTE BETTS
Charlotte Betts began her working life as a fashion designer in London. A career followed in interior design, property management and lettings. Always a bookworm, Charlotte discovered her passion for writing after her three children and two step-children grew up.
Her debut novel, The Apothecary’s Daughter, won the YouWriteOn Book of the Year Award in 2010 and the Joan Hessayon Award for New Writers, was shortlisted for the Best Historical Read at the Festival of Romance in 2011 and won the coveted Romantic Novelists' Association's Historical Romantic Novel RoNA award in 2013. Her second novel, The Painter’s Apprentice was also shortlisted for the Best Historical Read at the Festival of Romance in 2012 and the RoNA award in 2014. The Spice Merchant’s Wife won the Festival of Romance's Best Historical Read award in 2013.
Charlotte lives with her husband in a cottage in the woods on the Hampshire/Berkshire border.
For further information please contact Clara Diaz on 020 3122 6565 | Clara.Diaz@littlebrown.co.uk
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