I was drawn to read “Butterfly Palace” when a reviewer compared it to “Downton Abbey.” Sorry, it doesn’t come close to being anything like “Downton Abbey” except for the “Upstairs, Downstairs” aspect. The year is 1899 and the story takes place in Austin, Texas.
Lily Donaldson is forced to look for work after her parents passed away and she was left alone in the world. She quickly accepted a post as a kitchen maid in a luxurious mansion owned by Everett Marshall and his wife Camille.
Lily’s life had not been easy back in her small town of Larson, Texas. The man she loved, Andy Hawkins, left town after declaring his love for her many times as they secretly met in a barn on Lily’s family’s property.
During her first week at Butterfly Palace, Lily was asked to help serve an elegant dinner that the Marshall family was hosting. She was shocked that one of the guests was none other than Andy Hawkins, although he was known now as Drew Hawkes. Drew’s business acumen attracted Everett’s attention and he was invited to stay at the mansion for an indefinite period.
Everett Marshall was the guardian of his niece Belle who was also a member of the household. Belle was extremely attractive and Everett was determined to arrange a marriage between Belle and one of his wealthy associates, Stuart Vesters, an older man. Everett was also planning to run for the Senate, and Belle would be an asset to his campaign.
Everett’s wife Camille had a son, Christopher Lambreth, from her first marriage; Christopher also called Butterfly Palace his home. The Marshalls were fairly newly married and appeared to be devoted to each other.
Although Andy (Drew) did not speak to Lily initially, mainly because of the class etiquette at the time, he finally took her aside and stated that he had a legitimate reason for leaving her so suddenly six years ago, and he would explain himself to her at some point.
Lily’s talents, as a hairdresser and dressmaker captured the attention of Camille, who decided that Lily should become Belle’s personal maid. In the meantime, Belle had developed an interest in “Drew” but noticed that Lily and Drew spoke a few times and warned Lily to stay away from him.
Such a set of characters thrown together in an elegant mansion makes for much intrigue. Of course, the mansion has secret passages running under and through various rooms in the house. To complicate matters, a serial killer was loose in the city, choosing as his victims servant girls with blond hair. Both Lily and Belle have blonde hair. A subplot also reveals that there is a counterfeit gang at work in the city, which eventually impacts on the residents of Butterfly Palace.
The characters and their relationship with each other are a big part of the novel’s allure. Their interactions hold the reader in thrall. It all ties up very neatly in the end, which may or may not be a positive critique.
A major criticism of the novel involves the stilted dialogue of the cast. Yes, it is the turn of the nineteenth century, but the attempt at formal conversation falls flat. The use of these words and phrases causes the reader to cringe: assignation, deceased person, when she awakens, I’ll take my leave, I dislike falsehood.
I am tempted to try another novel by Colleen Coble, based on her clear characterization. I am curious as to whether the pretentious banter would be present in a novel set in another era.
Butterfly Palace by Colleen Coble (2014)