Book review: Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia

Belgravia - Julian FellowesUnlike Dante’s warning at the entrance to hell, all hope is not lost to ‘ye who enters here.

I am speaking, of course, to those of us who find ourselves adrift now that Downton Abbey has come to an end.

For Downton creator/writer/producer Julian Fellowes has a new historical fiction novel out – Belgravia. Like Downtown Abbey, it’s chock full of interesting – and often devious – characters, who are well-drawn and keep the story moving along nicely.

The initial scenes are set in 1815 Bruxelles, following the British troops quartered there and the lively environment of English expats that surround them prior to the Battle of Waterloo. The story then moves on to 1846 London, following the characters we glimpsed earlier in a London that is changing rapidly, with old, noble families mixing with the burgeoning merchant class.

Fellowes has lots of plot twists and secrets and wonderfully narcissistic characters who keep the story humming along at a rapid pace. As one would imagine, the descriptions, customs and manners of the time are beautifully drawn and allow the reader to feel he or she has been deposited in the London of the mid-nineteenth century.

My only qualm is that it sometimes felt as if I were reading a mix between a novel and a television script. The short scenes and brief insights into multiple characters felt, well, a little Downtonish. I suppose writing about such a broad cast of characters necessitated such a device, but I generally prefer a bit more depth from my novel’s characters than I demand from those in a television series or film.

That being said, I still enjoyed the book enormously. It was a fast-paced, enjoyable read, and I’ll be keeping my eye out for future Fellowes’ novels. Alhough I still miss Downton…

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