No One Must Know is the first instalment of Susan Frances’ Chiddleigh Saga. Set in 1330 England, the historical fiction explores the unlikely friendship between Joan, the lady of Court Barton, and Annie, a kitchen maid.
Fifteen-year-old Joan can hardly believe her good fortune when Sir John Chiddleigh, the Lord of Court Barton Manor, chooses her as his bride. Despite her modest background, she will finally fulfill her aspirations to become a lady of the manor. Joan realizes that her new husband doesn’t have the slightest interest in her, while she struggles to adapt to her new environment and acquire a persona befitting a lady. Friendless and alone, she seeks the company of Annie, a lowly kitchen maid. Yet, this treasured friendship seems doomed since Lord John forbade it. More alarmingly, Annie suffered a terrible fate on the night of Joan’s wedding, the consequences of which will be far-reaching in both women’s lives. With only the loyal bailiff’s sage counsel to guide her, can Joan manage Court Barton? Will Annie’s misfortunes continue to haunt her throughout life? To know the answers, you need to read No One Must Know, the first book of the Chiddleigh Saga by Susan Frances.
As a historical fiction set in 1330 England, the novel transported us to a faraway time. Frances provided her readers with unbiased glimpses into the lives of both royalty and common folk. The minor lords tried endlessly to curry favor with the earls, who, in turn, attempted to gain the King’s support by any means possible. While the upper echelons were busy climbing the social and political ladders, the ordinary people led harsh lives strife with hunger and poverty. The storyline repeatedly highlighted the stark contrast between these two groups. The novel followed both Joan and Annie as their stories gradually unfolded. Stuck in a loveless marriage where she did not receive the minimum respect, Joan demanded my sympathy. Frances sketched a heart-wrenching picture of her initial loneliness. Yet, I could not support her selfishness as she sought Annie whenever she needed the latter’s support and discarded her whenever their lives clashed. She also seemed to sport an ego that prevented her from confronting bitter truths. However, these faults made her character relatable. I loved how her ordeals turned her into a stronger character. In contrast, Annie was a tragic heroine, a victim of circumstances out of her control. Despite hitting rock bottom, she eked out a respectable life for herself. I admired her strength as she tended to others while keeping her broken heart to herself.
The novel revolved around Joan and Annie’s friendship. It was an unlikely one, witnessing numerous ups and downs as neither could forgo the disparity between their social positions. Their intentions were noble, yet a true friendship seemed improbable, especially when it involved a life-altering secret. I empathized with the unfortunate girls and watched helplessly as they stumbled through their lot.
Surprisingly, the villain of this story was the person who had the highest potential to become a hero. I soon learned to abhor Sir John for his selfishness, cruelty, and inherent misogyny. He was irresponsible, blindly following his ambitions while neglecting his family and subjects. I sincerely hoped he would change his attitude, but Frances showed that some characters were beyond redemption. John’s childhood experiences were partially responsible for his deplorable character. Unfortunately, the cycle repeated when Joan’s indifference and John’s misguided actions turned their son into a heartless person. This story underscored the importance of love and support during one’s formative years.
With its entangled relationships and impossible situations, No One Must Know is a tale of love, heartbreak, and betrayals. I would recommend this to any reader who appreciates historical fiction. For now, I am eagerly waiting for the second installment of the Chiddleigh Saga.
- Title: No One Must Know
- Author: Susan Frances
- Genre: Historical Fiction
- Theme: Medieval Literature, Women Empowerment, Political Intrigue, Friendship
- Publication Date: 19 July 2021
- ISBN or ASIN: B099WZV7M1
- Number of Pages: 457
- Minimum Audience Age: 18
(Note: 0=none, 1=a few, 2=considerable, 3=pronounced, 4=excessive)
- Sexual themes: 1
- Religious themes: 2
- Violence, self-harm, etc.: 4
- Crude language, expletives, swearing, etc.: 2
- Other adult themes: 2
- Content: 5 stars
- Writing Style: 5 stars
- Appeal to Target AuAudience: 5 stars
- Uniqueness: 5 stars
- Editing: 5 stars
- Other factors: 5 stars
- Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
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