I couldn’t pass up a book that takes place in 1860’s industrial Pittsburgh, let alone one about Carnegie. You might recognize the author Marie Benedict from her last book, The Other Einstein. I give Carnegie’s Maid 3.5 stars. While I enjoyed the idea of the story, the world-building and character development fell too flat for me. The climax was also underwhelming. One thing this book did get right is detailing the struggle of Irish immigrants in America. That aspect was the most believable for me in this historical.
As the title suggests, Carnegie’s Maid follows the story of Clara Kelly, an Irish immigrant who heads to America to find employment. When a girl with the same name as her dies on the boat, Clara assumes the other girl’s identity to take her job in Pittsburgh as a lady’s maid. Clara uses her salary to help her struggling family in Ireland. However, her new position becomes tricky when a blossoming romance begins between Clara and Andrew Carnegie. Due to their difference in status, a successful marriage between them is unlikely. When Carnegie’s mother gets wind of Clara’s fake identity, she threatens to tell Andrew. Knowing a happy future together is futile, Clara leaves to pursue a life elsewhere, using her salary to pay for her family’s tickets to America. The story is a great peek into the rise of the Carnegie steel empire, how Carnegie’s success affected poor immigrants, and his sudden rise as a philanthropist.
The best part about this novel is the exploration of the struggles faced by immigrants in America with a focus on Irish immigrants. The author did a great job of detailing the forces driving the Irish to America and the negative views they face in their new homes. I often found this story thread more interesting than Carnegie’s story.
Unfortunately, the rest of the book fell flat to me. The blossoming romance and the sudden end to it didn’t feel convincing enough. I felt like I didn’t get enough character development to fully connect to and understand characters. I wanted to dive deeper into Carnegie’s character, but I felt like we only got one side of his persona in this book. Likewise, Clara seemed to learn and understand his business too quickly, making her character too unbelievable to me. I also didn’t enjoy the way the business and other world-building got repeatedly shoehorned into conversation in a way that made it clear the conversations served the sole purpose of teaching readers more about those aspects. I wanted to see more dynamic characters and forbidden romance complete with a more emotional climax.
If you are a fan of Carnegie, Pittsburgh history, or reading about the struggle of immigrants in the 1860s, then you might like this book. For anyone who doesn’t have a strong enjoyment of those areas, you might want to pass on this one.
In the industrial 1860s at the dawn of the Carnegie empire, Irish immigrant Clara Kelly finds herself in desperate circumstances. Looking for a way out, she seeks employment as a lady’s maid in the home of the prominent businessman Andrew Carnegie. Soon, the bond between Clara and her employer deepens into love. But when Clara goes missing, Carnegie’s search for her unearths secrets and revelations that lay the foundation for his lasting legacy. With captivating insight and stunning heart, Carnegie’s Maid tells the story of one lost woman who may have spurred Andrew Carnegie’s transformation from ruthless industrialist into the world’s first true philanthropist.