From the desk of Katie Patchell:
In Michelle Griep’s latest novel, readers are transported to 19th-century Devon, England to follow a hero and heroine accused of crimes they never committed. In pursuit of justice, the story flows from the gray depths of Dartmoor Prison and its forgotten inmates, to the heights of high society’s glittering concert halls. One word resounds, its echo landing on each page and in both heroes’ hearts: Justice.
Haunted by accusations of her past, Margaret lives out her self-imposed banishment at Morden Hall, surrounded by the shifting skies above an endless moor. Her only companions are her mute maid, grizzled manservant, and loyal dog. Far from the glamour and fame of her past, she is happy with her companions, books, and audience of none as she sings on the open moor.
Everything changes when a man who was there on the day she fell from society’s grace appears unconscious and bleeding outside her home. Margaret is torn: Should she help the man escape the brutish prison guard chasing him, risking her anonymity in the process? Or should she stay hidden, abandoning the “stranger” to his own fate?
“Death prowled the cellblock like a dark animal seeking prey–especially the weakest. But Oliver Ward would be hanged if he’d let the beast devour the man in the cell besides him. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right.” (Line 1, Chapter 1)
Wrongfully accused and harshly punished for theft, Oliver Ward spends his nights in prison darkness and his days breaking rocks for no other purpose than to break him. He knows he has few chances for freedom, as everyone he knew before he went to trial has abandoned him. If he can just make it to the end of the moors before being captured, he knows he can find a way to prove his innocence and save his friend, Jarney, from dying in prison. When fate (or something else) pushes him across Margaret’s path, he faces his own dilemma: Is it better to grasp for justice…or to reach for revenge?
A few years ago I had the chance to stand on an English moor instead of watching it through the screen. When I did, I finally understood why it captivated the Brontës, Frances Hodgson Burnett (The Secret Garden), and Daphne du Maurier (Jamaica Inn). I had always pictured it as a bleak wasteland: lifeless, cold, colorless. The real truth is a jumble of presuppositions and different realities. The ground beneath my feet wasn’t flat; instead, it was of rolling hills, each revealing elements of the landscape that had been hidden before. Long grass moved with the breeze. The wind shifted under a sky wide and changeable, storm clouds the color of pewter one day, and streaks from an artist’s palette the next. If asked now to define the word “sky,” I would say: “The view above a moor or sea.” Everything on a moor is sharp and fresh—the sights, the air—even the way you feel just a little more tangible when you leave it. Can it be bleak? Yes. But does it remain ever dark? No.
This was the same feeling I had while reading The House at the End of the Moor. The novel dealt with heavy topics, and like both the stereotype of a moor and its reality, these themes were not painted in soft watercolors, but in bold ink. Oliver Ward was physically and mentally tortured under a system of law that largely works, but as we all know, also fails. Margaret was wary of men because of their treatment—and demanding objectification—of her in the past. Both characters’ stories went beyond just being an interesting tale because their cries for justice and their struggles between hate and forgiveness is something every human faces. I was caught up in their story and in wrestling with these issues as they did, and I still find myself thinking about it days after I closed the novel.
What I didn’t like about my experience with The House at the End of the Moor was that the secrets (and there were many) were often revealed too abruptly. The lack of build-up combined with some modern, non-Regency/Victorian dialogue made me confused and disoriented for longer than I wanted to be. Because of this, it was only until 30% through that I felt immersed in the story, although the characters drew me in from page one.
Like a real moor’s landscape, there was also beauty and light across this novel’s pages. With humor aplenty and a slow-build romance, The House at the End of the Moor was as entertaining as it was thought-provoking. Margaret especially made me cheer because of her independence and bravery, and Oliver’s inherent compassion for others made me wish for more heroes to champion those who cannot speak for themselves. I highly recommend The House at the End of the Moor for your next spring read!
4 out of 5 Stars
The House at the End of the Moor, by Michelle Griep
Shiloh Run Press (April 1, 2020)
Trade paperback, & eBook (320) pages
Cover image courtesy of Shiloh Run Press © 2020; text Katie Patchell © 2020, Austenprose.com