Since debuting in the UK three seasons ago, Downton Abbey has become a worldwide phenomenon. It combines great characters, a compelling plot and a fascinating historical setting to make for an addictive viewing experience that has captivated audiences of a wide range of nationalities and age groups. Now that Season 4 is about to start airing in the U.S., I know I am excited to see what is in store for all of my favorite residents of the Abbey. If you are like me and Downton Abbey has sparked your interest in the history of this time period more generally, get in the mood for Season 4 (or tide yourself over between episodes) with one of these books.
Downton fans who have fallen in love with the English manor house setting will find plenty of options to keep them busy. Wentworth Hall by Abby Grahame is one such option. It follows the Darlingtons, an upper class British family, and their staff as they all struggle to keep their secrets private even as their lives become the thinly veiled fodder for a new newspaper column.
Set in 1926 in London, The Heiresses by Allison Rushby is a New Adult novel that follows triplets who were separated at birth. Never knowing that they had sisters or that they were kept from inheriting their mother’s fortune, each of the girls is tested by the temptations of the big city, their struggles to come together as a family, and the uphill legal battle that they face to regain control of their inheritance.
Manga enthusiasts will definitely want to track down Emma by Kaoru Mori, which made YALSA’s 2008 Great Graphic Novels list. The ten volume series is set a bit before the time period of Downton Abbey, in the late 19th century and follows a maid named Emma as she works at a grand mansion in York and falls in love with the eldest son of an upper middle class family.
A couple new books in this genre are also scheduled for release while Season 4 is airing. Next week, Diamonds & Deceit by Leila Rasheed picks up where Cinders & Sapphires left off. Somerton is at risk due to the family’s dire financial situation, Ada is moving forward with both her engagement and her education and former valet Oliver is facing murder charges for a crime he didn’t commit. Filled with just as much romance, intrigue and excitement as Downton Abbey itself, this series will definitely be a hit with those who love to get caught up in the Crawley family’s machinations.
At the end of January, Manor of Secrets by Katherine Longshore, author of Gilt and Tarnish, will be released. The book is set in England in 1911 and follows Lady Charlotte Edmonds, the teenage daughter of the family that owns the manor, and Janie Seward, one of the house’s kitchen maids. Though they have very different lives, neither is happy with their lot in life and each is struggling to break out of the roles into which society has forced them. Coming from a popular author of young adult historical novels, this one is bound to be a very compelling read.
If you are interested in reading more books set in the 1920s and are willing to look beyond the shores of the United Kingdom, there are several books during this period in the U.S. Born of Illusion by Teri Brown (also the author of the Sommerset Abbey trilogy under the name T.J. Brown, which is another great Downton readalike) is set in the world of magicians and illusionists in New York City. The protagonist is a young illusionist named Anna whose great secret is that unlike the other mentalists around her, she actually has the power to see the future. This story is a perfect mix of magic, fantasy and history for those who love both fantasy novels and historical fiction.
Those with a penchant for more realistic fiction might prefer the Bright Young Things series by Anna Godbersen or The Flappers series by Jillian Larkin, both of which are set in the Jazz Age (in New York City and Chicago respectively) and follow flappers and their social set as they encounter romance, adventure and the dawning of a new age. For more on these and other Jazz era reads, check out Mia Cabana’s Jazz Party for the Books post.
Fans of nonfiction also have plenty of options to learn more about the show and England during this time period. Lady Fiona Carnarvon of Highclere, the estate where Downton Abbey is filmed, has written a second book, Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey, which is a nonfiction account of an American woman who married into the family who owned Highclere and lived there during the 1920s and 1930s.
If you are more interested in learning about how the cast and crew of the show brings this world to life, you’ll definitely want to check out Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey by Emma Rowley, which focuses on every production detail of Season 4 of Downton Abbey. With sections on the set, wardrobe, props and makeup, it will tell you exactly what is required to take television audiences back in time to England in the 1920s.
Knitters who enjoy the fashion of the show may want to try out the patterns in The Unofficial Downton Abbey Knits, a special issue of PieceWork magazine, which is really more of a book on how to recreate articles of clothing from the time period. The book includes numerous patterns for both clothing and accessories as well as background information on the fashion of the show. If you are interested in moving beyond knit garments, you might also want to check out Andover Fabrics’ new collection of licensed Downton Abbey fabrics.
If humor is more your speed, you might want to check out Downton Tabby by Chris Kelly, which imagines a world where the Abbey is populated entirely by cats. Kelly manages to find a surprising amount of overlap between the behavior of the Crawley family and house cats. If you aren’t a cat fan, you can try Mouseton Abbey by Nick Page instead, which is a picture book about a family of mice and their mouse servants (all named for types of cheese), who live in a regal estate.
If these aren’t quite enough to get you through the season, check out our previous posts for more Downton Abbey readalikes. And, I would love to hear about any other books you would recommend for Downton fans in the comments!
-Carli Spina, currently reading Death Cloud by Andrew Lane