The Seventh Miss Hatfield by Anna Caltabiano

3/10 A teenage fantasy historical romance built on very dubious foundations.

There’s always been something about Cynthia’s next door neighbour. And when Miss Hatfield tricks Cynthia into drinking a drop of the Fountain of Youth, she finds herself immortal. She is the new Miss Hatfield and the next in line to the curse and blessing that is her legacy. But immortality has a price. Tasked by her predecessor with recovering a mysterious painting, Cynthia finds herself in turn of the century New York. But someone else has followed her…

The Seventh Miss Hatfield is set up by the blurb to be a slightly supernatural time-travelling jaunt to 1887 to retrieve a painting, which was, I presumed, key to a terrible secret. Sounds good - I was looking forward to unravelling the mystery. However, sadly, there isn’t really much of one to unpick and instead this is more of a teenage fantasy historical romance built on very dubious foundations.

Unfortunately, I think this book not only fails to live up to the premise, but is actually quite disturbing. Rather than a young woman being plucked from a humdrum life and cast on a wild adventure, essentially what actually happens is that an 11 year old girl is enticed into a strange woman’s house, drugged and magically aged so she is forced to grow up before her time. This means she can never go back home, has to forget her old life and do what her kidnapper tells her to, which is to thieve from somebody else. Doesn’t sound so much fun now does it? But all of this is brushed aside because Cynthia, transformed into the latest Miss Rebecca Hatfield, manages to, bafflingly, insinuate herself into a rich household and falls in love with a wonderful young man.

I actually had a very strong reaction to this book, just because the central character is so young and I see absolutely no reason why Cynthia had to be 11. She doesn’t make the choice herself to step into this new life - she just does what an adult tells her to do, her whole life is taken away from her and no amount of gadding about in nice dresses or claiming that she’s been saved from a life where she never really fitted in can excuse that. Also, Cynthia herself, despite apparently having matured emotionally as well as physically seeing as she ends up falling in love, doesn’t rebel at all against the woman who trapped her. Not one question, no violent outbursts, no wanting to screw the world and make this situation her own - just a sense of ‘oh well, it’s happened and my past life is fading from my memory anyway so it doesn’t really matter’.

The language is very young adult in tone, which isn’t overly surprising as the author is just 17 years old. This is her second novel, so fair play to her as that is quite an achievement - but despite an interesting sketch of a plot, its execution makes very little sense. To summarise, there have been a sequence of Miss Rebecca Hatfields over the years, ever since the waters of a particular lake were found to bestow immortality. Each Miss Hatfield can move through time, but forgets her old life. My problem with this starts when it turns out that for a new Miss Hatfield to take over, a young girl is tricked into drinking a drop of water from the lake - for no better reason than the old Miss Hatfield has decided that they have had enough and it is time to inflict this non-existence on somebody else. A key flaw is that there is no reason behind it. They’re not guardians of some particular knowledge beyond how they are immortal and they have no purpose in continuing the line. Why are they all called Miss Hatfield? They can move backwards and forwards in time, but this element of the story is severely underused and the whole stealing of the painting plot is dragged out into a drippy romance clearly influenced by Bronte and Austin, but lacking their acute portrayal of human emotions. There’s the vague idea that they have to stop other people from finding out about this magical immortal water, but it’s all very wishy-washy and is very much stuck on the back burner once Cynthia starts her new high society life.

Strangely I think the book has been changed from the proof copy stage, as other reviews and blurbs mention Cynthia being 15 and wishing for something more exciting to happen to her, so why she was taken back to 11 I’ve got no idea. She also isn’t followed by any stranger - she’s accompanied to the past by the older Miss Hatfield who apparently gives her some rudimentary education about the 1880s, but that’s clear in the book. Characters are fairly standard - a curious young woman, a well-bred nice love interest, chatty maids, caring cook, grumpy head of the household, and a stunning but self-obsessed love rival all revolve around one another in grand houses where a lot of eating breakfast and riding horses seems to take place - but nobody stands out.

I’m trying to think of something positive to say too, but it is a struggle. The language was a bit young and contrived, but not appalling by any means, and there are some interesting ideas in there, but there are definitely some serious flaws. Some people really enjoyed the historical romance nature of it, so personal taste clearly plays a big part, but this didn’t work for me at all and I’m surprised that nobody pointed it out that kidnapping a child is not the best way to kick off a love story.

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