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on 30 September 2013
The year is 1821 and governess Rachel Crofton, afraid that this may be her last such opportunity, finds herself accepting an offer of marriage from charming wine merchant, Richard Weekes. Rachel finds herself settling into her new quarters in Bath, eager to make her marriage a success. Soon, she is introduced to the Alleyns, old acquaintances of her husband's where she becomes employed as companion to the troubled and reclusive Jonathan; a man tormented by his memories of war and by the disappearance of his childhood sweetheart Alice. Indeed Alice seems to haunt the entire household almost; Rachel too soon drawn into the mystery of what really happened to her.

With each coming book, Webb seems only to go from strength to strength as an author, and the Misbegotten has to be my favourite to date. Unlike in her previous works, there is no modern time frame this time; but the story does still flit back and forth from 1821 to the early 1800s where we are introduced to Alice, ward of Lord Faukes, who has been brought up in a small village by the elderly Bridget and who takes in a young girl found wandering by the house one day as her sister, Starling.

This is a story rich in atmosphere and mystery, with a dark, gothic feel and secrets that are slow to reveal themselves, but rather tease and taunt, turning first one way and then the other. Set in 1800s Bath, Webb recreates the setting and period quite beautifully; reminiscent in some parts of a Jane Austen novel, though the content is far more haunting, and much grittier. Indeed Webb doesn't shy away from painting some truly horrifying scenes of life as a soldier in the Peninsular war, where Jonathan Alleyn once served and has since been driven almost mad by all that he saw and took part of. Nor does she glamorize the hardships of women's struggles, their lack of voice and freedom, their frightening reliance and dependency on the men in their lives, be it fathers, husbands, employers.

Her characters too are rich and, with perhaps one or two exceptions, never painted entirely black or white, but rather complex and ambiguous. The feisty Starling, with her relentless quest for the truth and justice over Alice's disappearance, and her carefully guarded vulnerabilities, was perhaps my favourite. I also loved the interactions between Rachel and Jonathan with his unpredictable moods; and how she gradually gains his trust, even though she cannot trust him herself.

I also have to say that some of Webb's descriptions are mesmerizing, and i found myself re-reading them, savouring her turn of words. The tension she creates through the novel is also gripping and builds to a climactic conclusion; my only criticism being that she strays into melodrama towards the end. A story that is at times brutal in its cruelty and sadness, this makes for an intense read, bittersweet and in places simply heart-rendering.
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on 11 September 2014
Sometimes I just want to relax with an easy read, and this slow but solid story was just the thing to see me through a housebound weekend.
It could have been darker and sharper (and shorter) in places, but this tale of mysterious goings-on in an early 19th century household is a compelling one, with gothic touches reminiscent of Jane Eyre and Rebecca. But the tone is more realistic than romantic, with the convincing female characters neatly demonstrating how few life choices women had at the time. The detailed depiction of the seamier side of life in regency Bath is very different from anything you'll find in Austen or Heyer, and the flashback scenes of war-torn Spain and Portugal are particularly well done.
And at the end, there are enough twists and surprises (even if the main one isn't hard to guess) to make the whole thing very satisfying. It would make a very good Sunday night costume drama on tv.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 3 September 2013
In 1821, Rachel Crofton sees an escape from her role as governess in marriage; daughter of a genteel couple, she hopes to regain some glimmer of her former status in an honourable marriage to an up-and-coming young wine merchant, Richard Weekes. But in doing so, she entangles herself in the history of more than one haunted inhabitant of the fashionable town of Bath, where Jonathan Alleyn, haunted by his lost love and the Napoleonic wars is a broken man, and where Rachel finds most people are not as she thought they were.

This is a great novel; it took a while to get going, and seemed to start out with a rather Jane Austen-like beginning. But before long you begin to sense the undertone in the narratives, which move between 1821 and the early 1800s, when Starling is growing up with Alice Beckwith, ward of Lord Faukes and grandfather of Jonathan.

The growing tension here and the appalling story as it unfolds are really breathtaking. The utter horrors of the war experienced in Europe by Jonathan are brilliantly told. The story of these men and women and the skeletons that threaten to tumble out from their pasts is brilliantly unfolded before the reader's eyes, and you will find yourself glued to the last two hundred pages of the book, unable to put it down if you are anything like me. Great stuff; I will be looking out for more of the author's works.
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on 27 April 2014
Without a doubt, I think this is Katherine Webb's best book to date. The story is beautifully written, and Katherine's skill at transporting the reader to the time and places she describes is second to none. I love the historical detail she masterfully weaves into the plot; it really is a feast for the senses as the reader truly visualises what she describes. Yes, it is a long read, but very worth it. I was so eager to finish the book but felt rather bereft once I had as I felt I had gotten to know the characters. Katherine Webb is such a skilled storyteller; for the life of me I cannot fathom why some other reviewers have felt disappointed with this exceptional book!!
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on 31 July 2014
Fabulous! Not only rich in detail and fantastically observant about the human condition and how we relate to each other in gesture and speech (irrelevant of the time period), but also a wonderful mystery which made me want to read on and on. I adored Rachel and Starling, through whose eyes the story unravels, despite their (or Starling's at least) ambiguity and human frailty. And Jonathan Alleyn is one of my new favourite gothic novel men, despite his tormented complexity and conflicted character. This is a rich, compelling, beautifully observed story which carried me along effortlessly despite its length and detail. A must read.
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on 19 December 2013
It is the early 1820s: Rachel, newlywed to a Bath wine merchant, Richard Weekes, becomes intrigued and increasingly concerned about his involvement with a prosperous Bath family, the Alleyn - the beautiful but unwelcoming mother Josephine, her disturbed son - war veteran Jonathan who is confined to his rooms - and their strange young servant-girl Starling. It seems everyone is keeping a terrible secret: what became of Jonathan's lovely sweetheart, Alice, who disappeared during the war? And who was the mysterious young woman Alice anyway? Where did she come from?

Katherine Webb is a superb story-teller, particularly strong on character. No-one can surpass Ms Webb in the creation of such vivid and plausible fictional characters.

I don't think 'The Misbegotten' is quite as good as Ms Webb's 'The Unseen' which I also reviewed and gave five stars. The plot isn't quite so engaging and original. As in 'The Unseen' there is a split timeframe, but here both narrative settings are in the past rather than one in the past and one the present day, and I don't feel it works quite so well: the reader has to work that much harder to remember which timeframe we are in. I also found the book overlong - the story's good, but could have been told just as well if cut by about a quarter.

A good book, but not quite as good as I was hoping for from Ms Webb.
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on 12 February 2014
I really enjoyed this story, even more than previous ones by Katherine Webb. I thought this one had a brilliant mystery, one I really wanted to untangle and find out - so much so that I often struggled to put the book down. I really liked how different parts of the mystery were revealed slowly throughout the book. I read another novel recently where the 'mystery' was only revealed in the last few pages, and then we never saw how the characters dealt with it, so I much preferred this book, where bits were discovered a little at a time, and the characters reacted accordingly.
This was one of those books where I found myself thinking about the plot even when I wasn't reading it, trying to think of how it was going to turn out - because I really couldn't work it out! There were several ways the story could have gone, and I didn't guess how it would go at all. The ending was satisfying, there were a few things that went unexplained but the general ending was what I wanted for the characters.
I really liked the characters, they seemed real, and the setting/era for this book were great too, and well written.
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Two of Katherine Webb's books featured in my Top Ten from 2012 - The Unseen and A Half Forgotten Song. I couldn't wait to get my hands on her latest - unusually for me (I have an aversion to heavy hardbacks...) I read it in the traditional way rather than on my Kindle, and loved every single one of its 531 wonderful pages.

No modern thread this time, but the story covers two timeframes. 1803 and a young child - called Starling because of the flocks that accompany her arrival - wanders in from across the marshes, filthy and ill-treated, and is taken in by Alice Beckwith and treated as her sister. Alice is the ward of Lord Faukes, and knows nothing of her parentage. When her guardian visits he is often accompanied by his grandson Jonathan Alleyn, and the young couple fall in love. In 1821, Rachel Crofton escapes life as a governess by marrying wine merchant Richard Weekes, and becomes the companion of Jonathan Alleyn, recently returned from the Peninsular War and now a recluse, driven to madness by everything he's experienced and Alice's disappearance. Starling works in the Alleyn household, convinced that Jonathan killed the woman who saved her life.

The story threads unwind in a totally compelling way - this is a story full of secrets and lies, treachery and cruelty, with twists and turns and revelations that keep you feverishly turning the pages. Rachel and Starling are both fascinating and likeable characters, and I grew to really care about them as they lived their lives and pursued the truth about Alice's disappearance.

Others have said that this is a big book that doesn't feel like a big book - I was quite mesmerised by the story that unfolded and really struggled to make myself set it aside and leave the life of its characters, so desperate was I to find out the truth. This was wonderful story telling, rich with descriptions of the period - and the descriptions of Jonathan's wartime experiences leave enduring and horrifying images - plainly meticulously researched and intricately plotted. I really can't praise it highly enough - Katherine Webb is most certainly going to feature in my Top Ten of 2013 too.
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on 26 January 2014
I seem to be in the minority but found this book really hard going especially after enjoying The Legacy so much. The main characters were really difficult to care about, the storyline was long and drawn out and in parts downright boring. I really struggled to finish the book and at times felt like giving up completely. It took me over a month to read it which must be an all time record for me.
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on 28 March 2016
The Misbegotten
Katherine Webb
28 March 2016



I have previously read Katherine Webb and loved her books but I was so disappointed in this novel. It was long winded and dark. It had a good story but it was complicated in part and it spoiled the well written narrative. It took me a long time to get into the story, some of the characters were not likeable and it was hard to find sympathy for others. I persevered but want to give up so many times. The story focuses on the missing Alice Beckwith and the characters drawn together by her disappearance. The mystery takes a long time to unfold and story is all over the place. It took a lot of concentration to persist
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