Book Review: A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson

Publication Date: May 10th 2007 by Puffin

Summary: After the Russian revolution turns her world topsy-turvy, Anna, a young Russian countess, has no choice but to flee to England. Penniless, Anna hides her aristocratic background and takes a job as servant in the household of the esteemed Westerholme family, armed only with an outdated housekeeping manual and sheer determination. Desperate to keep her past a secret, Anna is nearly overwhelmed by her new duties—not to mention her instant attraction to Rupert, the handsome Earl of Westerholme. To make matters worse, Rupert appears to be falling for her as well. As their attraction grows stronger, Anna finds it more and more difficult to keep her most dearly held secrets from unraveling. And then there’s the small matter of Rupert’s beautiful and nasty fiancée…

Review Overview:

  • Romance lacks passion
  • Full of vibrant and fun characters
  • Storyline is very similar to Ibbotson’s THE RELUCTANT HEIRESS

If you’ve read THE RELUCTANT HEIRESS by Eva Ibbotson, the formula for A COUNTESS BELOW STAIRS is pretty much the same thing: royal in disguise, nasty fiancee who wants everything her way, servants who adore the female protagonist… everything down to the plot is similar with the exception that this was set in a different country. Just after reading THE RELUCTANT HEIRESS the story line was completely predictable. I’m afraid to think that Ibbotson’s books are all like this, following a similar formula.

Formula and similarities aside, I still did enjoy reading this book. Anna is a fun lovable character and I sympathized with her character from the very beginning.  A COUNTESS BELOW STAIRS is filled with other magnificent characters that I instantly loved from Miss Ollie to Petya.

Ibbotson is a phenomenal storyteller but she skirts away from telling the romance from Anna or Rupert’s perspective. As the reader, I never got a clear insight of their feelings. It makes me feel like a spectator of their romance as if I was the Rupert’s mother the dowager countess or one of the servants. While I can feel that they are in love, I don’t know the depth of their love because of the character’s failure to connect truly with the reader.This factor is a big reason why I don’t love Ibbotson’s books as much as I wish I did. The stories she tells are inspiring and heartwarming, but the romance fails to affect me emotionally.

A COUNTESS BELOW STAIRS is a nicely paced historical read. Ibbotson writes beautifully, but if you are looking for a passionate romance, I wouldn’t recommend her books.


  1. It’s funny that you mention the romance lacking a connection to the reader. I haven’t read any of this author’s books yet, mostly because I get the vague impression that they’re written at a distance, if you know what I mean? I feel like I may have trouble reaching characters’ deeper emotions. I have no idea why, but it seems like that feeling lines up with what you’re saying about the romance.

    It’s a shame the plot of this was so close to the other book. I’ll keep that in mind and try to read them very spaced out. Thank you!

    1. Yes! I know exactly what you mean…. I got the sense of what they were feeling based on what others perceived of them, but I never really got to know the characters’ relationship intimately.

  2. I find that very frustrating. I’m having trouble with the main character in one of the books I’m reading now. I feel like I know what she’s doing, but never what she’s really feeling. I’m not “in her head” as much as I’d like to be.

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