Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Review: The Christmas Hirelings by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (audio)

Title: The Christmas Hirelings
Author: Mary Elizabeth Braddon
Narrator: Richard Armitage
Published: December 2018, Audible Studios
Length: 3 hours 53 minutes
Source: Personal copy via Audible

Richard Armitage modernizes a classic hidden gem of Christmas Past… Sir John Penlyon is planning to spend Christmas at his estate with his niece and his friend Danby, the closest thing he has to family since disowning his daughter years ago. (She eloped with the parson, who was, of course, penniless.) Danby suggests that at Christmastime the estate needs the presence of small children, and offers to find some - the “hirelings” - despite Sir John’s skepticism. Three children duly arrive, and the youngest, precocious four year-old Moppet, quickly endears herself to Sir John. The season takes flight with merriment, warmth, and even affection, until Moppet - as young children are wont to do in Victorian holiday tales - falls deathly ill. With her life hanging by a tinsel-thin thread, how will the makeshift family cope?

Listeners who smile ironically at the antiquated juxtaposition of The Christmas Hirelings might be surprised by the contemporary feel of a blended family, income inequality, and the power of togetherness to heal past sorrows. Richard Armitage’s stellar voice makes each scene as rich as a plum pudding dotted with the raisins of tradition (party favors, carols, and more!), and the entire performance feels like a trip to bygone England…just in time for the end of this year.

My thoughts: This was an Audible Original audiobook that members got for free as a gift for Christmas and while it's not my usual type of listen, I decided to give it a try...and I'm so glad I did as I really enjoyed it! It was the perfect story to have on while I finished up my Christmas cards and did some other holiday errands.

This story was first published in 1894. It is a Victorian Christmas tale similar in some ways to Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, with just a few little twists to make it stand out on it's own. I found the children to be quite charming, especially little Moppet, who in my opinion stole the show! 

I will say the idea of hiring out children is quite a new one to me and while I know this isn't something that is happening now, but back in Victorian days, I still had never heard of this practice. But, as I got further into the story, I saw the motive for what it was meant to be and understood...this is the true heart of the story and this is what makes it such a sweet Christmas story.

I'm glad I decided to give this story a chance...I really did enjoy it and it definitely put me in the holiday spirit. I didn't end up reading too many holiday books this year and so this one came around at just the right time!

Audio thoughts: This is the first time I've listened to Richard Armitage narrate a book and I was in heaven listening to his voice! He did an amazing job with not only the story but also all the characters, bringing them all to life, even the women and children. I will definitely be seeking out other audiobooks that he has narrated!


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