>> Tuesday, July 05, 2016
For fans of Barbara Erskine and Kate Morton comes an unforgettable novel about three women and the power one lie can have over history.House of Shadows tells the story of two beautiful and dangerous paranormal objects across three different time periods.
There was something the Winter Queen needed to tell him. She fought for the strength to speak.
‘The crystal mirror is a danger. It must be destroyed – ‘
He replied instantly. ‘It will’.
Ashdown, Oxfordshire, present day:
Ben Ansell is researching his family tree when he disappears. As his sister Holly begins a desperate search, she finds herself inexplicably drawn to an ornate antique mirror and to the diary of Lavinia, a 19th century courtesan who was living at Ashdown House when it burned to the ground over 200 years ago.
Intrigued, and determined to find out more about the tragedy at Ashdown, Holly’s only hope is that uncovering the truth about the past will lead her to Ben.
In the 17th century, Cornick fictionalises the story of a real historical character, Elizabeth of Bohemia. Elizabeth Stuart was an English princess who married Frederick V, Elector Palatine. Frederick lost his kingdom, and Cornick's story starts as Elizabeth and Frederick are in exile in The Hague. Cornick's addition is that Elizabeth inherited two powerful objects from Mary Queen of Scots: the so-called Sistrin pearl and a jewelled mirror. They can do a number of things (can you tell I was never quite sure what?), but the main thing is that they allow the user to scry the future. Frederick has taken to using them, together with the knights of the Rosicrucian Fellowship, to try to recover his crown. Elizabeth is completely against this, as the objects have a history of taking payment for their use in blood, but Frederick won't listen. The book follows Elizabeth's story over the years, particularly her relationship with William Craven, a soldier she's rumoured to have secretly married after the death of her husband.
In the present day, Holly Ansell's brother Ben has mysteriously disappeared from from the holiday house he and Holly inherited from their parents in a little village in Oxfordshire. That house used to be part of the estate where William Craven had his manor house (which has since burned down), where he's rumoured to have brought Elizabeth after their marriage. Holly discovers Ben has been researching their family history (very uncharacteristic of him), and through some of the material he left behind, deduces he was seeking the Sistrin pearl, which has been lost since the 17th century.
One of the things Ben left behind is a diary written by a courtesan in the early 19th century (here's our third time period), telling of her life as the mistress of a Lord Evershot, a spoilt aristocrat decended from William Craven. Evershot is clearly looking for something he believes is hidden in his estate. Could it be the Sistrin pearl?
Action moves between the time periods, but particularly the first two. A shame, because I particularly enjoyed the character of Lavinia Flyte, our 19th century courtesan. Like Holly, I thought she was fabulous: brave, pragmatic and determined to make the best of things, presenting a brave front but clearly hiding vulnerabilities. I would totally read a book all about her!
Elizabeth and William's storyline I liked less. I suspect we were meant to find their relationship oh-so-romantic, but I wasn't particularly engaged. Plus, there's a point when Craven allows his mistress to walk all over him in a way that helped the plot go in a particular way but felt completely unrealistic for the character (I'm not even sure why Cornick needed to do this, plot-wise, as there are plenty of other ways in which the same ends could have been achieved). I wasn't fussed about either of them, to be honest.
I liked the present-day story more. The mystery of Ben's disappearance is interesting and I liked Holly well enough. That said, I never really got a good sense of her. She's fine, I guess, and worked ok as the main character for the plot, which is the main thing here. Holly gets a romance as well, and quite a nice one. The guy was intriguing, a former soldier who now runs an engineering company in the village. I wish we'd got more of him. The romance is nice, but underdeveloped. And given that I picked up this book because it was mentioned by Susanna Kearsley together with In Another Time, I should clarify we do get a HEA!
This was diverting enough and mostly harmless. I enjoyed the history but didn't feel any deep emotions. It was fine.
MY GRADE: A C+.