From the creator of Downton Abbey, the story of a secret that unravels behind the porticoed doors of London's grandest postcode. Set in the 1840s when the upper echelons of society began to rub shoulders with the emerging industrial nouveau riche.
The plot devices of Belgravia will be familiar to anyone who has a passing acquaintance with Victorian fiction: There are missing papers, duplicitous ladies’ maids, gambling debts, dubious marriage lines and long-lost heirs. The novel’s chapters originally appeared online as individual 'episodes,' each ending with a cliffhanger. It’s a device that is, of course, a mainstay of the television serial drama, but in the 19th century it was used by novelists whose works were printed chapter by chapter in magazines like Dickens’s Household Words, a device intended to keep readers coming back for more. Belgravia is an unashamed homage to the Victorian serial novel ... Reading Belgravia is rather like visiting a modern re-creation of a Victorian house — every cornice molding is perfect — but it’s a Victorian house with 21st-century plumbing and Wi-Fi. It’s for anyone who has tried to read a 19th-century novel and become bored ... As you would expect, the dialogue is crisp. And there are a number of wonderful set pieces ... But without the talents of great actors to turn stereotypes into human beings, much of the characterization — particularly among the downstairs cast — seems underdeveloped, and there’s no score to remind us when a certain bit should bring tears to our eyes.
...the author recognizes the importance of keeping the narrative jogging along. Mr. Fellowes dishes up the traditional mixture of mystery and romance. He provides us with a secret marriage, sudden deaths, a missing heir, snobbery and class distinction, loyal and disloyal servants, grand parties, some seedy scenes in gambling dens and low taverns, a spot of adultery, jealous rivalries, attempted murder. It is all agreeably familiar ... Mr. Fellowes is an easy writer—by which I mean one who makes for easy reading—and the narrative rattles along. It’s likely that you will quite soon see where it is tending, but the journey is enjoyable ... the author has set out to offer entertainment and has provided it. Yet it isn’t unreasonable to think that there might have been more to Belgravia if the author’s imagination had been more fully engaged; that, for instance, the characters might occasionally have surprised one.
The surface differences between this work and Downton Abbey are clear: We’re in the early Victorian era, seven decades before the television series’ late-Edwardian setting; and in the city rather than the country. But Fellowes is still dealing with the same basic plot lines...despite the drama added by the serial format, Belgravia feels both drawn-out and a little tired; as if it were written in a hurry to a prescribed length ... Some of the sentences, with their requisite catalogs of period detail, read almost like satire...and many of the characters lack nuance; either impeccably good or unredeemably bad ...great fun for Downton addicts, among which I count myself. Belgravia, unfortunately, feels like a respectable but socially inferior cousin; it might get invited to dinner, but only out of obligation.