Early on I got strong vibes of The Secret Garden, but the echoes of that book didn't last all that long. Christina's story is the classic orphaned tale in many ways. Orphaned as a young girl, she has been in the care of various relatives before being sent at 13 to live with her mean uncle at his estate Flambards. Uncle Russell is obsessed with fox hunting, something that made the story seem particularly dated for me. Hunting was banned in Scotland in 2002 and the UK in 2004. Young horsey girls growing up now may not know about the fox hunting activities of the past.
Christina arrives on the very day that her cousin William has a bad accident whilst out hunting and breaks his leg very badly. William hates everything about horses, riding and hunting. I learnt quite a bit about hunting that I didn't know. I hadn't realised that hunting was so seasonal, or that people would go out three times a week chasing foxes about the countryside. Uncle Russell is a rather broken and embittered man since his own hunting accident which left him crippled and unable to participate in the sport that he loves so much. He seeks much solace in port, and is a cruel drunk in charge of an estate that is not well maintained, and actually crumbling about them.
The roles of the servants and the misfortunes of their lives is a big theme. The horses and stable have many more servants than do the people living in the house, reflecting the status of the different buildings. Dick, the groom who teaches Christina to ride is the most sympathetic character in the book, but I was disappointed in the choices he made.
The Edwardian setting was interesting too with the advent of both the car and flying. While I enjoyed the setting I was never fully involved in the story. I didn't find Christina an engaging heroine for some reason. I think that I found her prospective involvement with her cousin as the most disturbing aspect of the book- more than the drinking, the violent behaviour towards humans and animals, and two families in decline.