Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Graydon House
Release Date: October 17th 2017
My Rating: 5 cups
Blurb (from Goodreads):
The wooded hills of Oxfordshire conceal the remains of the aptly named Ashdown House--a wasted pile of cinders and regret. Once home to the daughter of a king, its secrets will unite three women across four centuries in a tangle of romance, deceit and destiny...
Bound by sex and birth to live for everyone but herself--and to love always in secret--Elizabeth Stuart entrusts a pair of arcane artifacts to her faithful cavalier to keep safe for her rightful heir. But fate will not be generous to the Winter Queen, throwing the question of succession into turmoil, the aftermath of which will resonate through the generations.
Lavinia Flyte wanted so much more from life than to be a courtesan at the mercy of the cruel Lord Evershot. He has brought her to Ashdown, the home of his ancestors, for reasons he guards greedily. But the maids' whispers of hidden treasures--a pearl with the power to foretell the future--consume her with a curiosity she confides only to her diary, unaware of the misfortune that threatens.
And the mystery that binds them
Alarmed to hear her brother has gone missing at Ashdown Park, Holly Ansell is inexplicably drawn to the clues contained in the journal of a Regency courtesan who was living at the historic home when it burned to the ground two hundred years ago. Lured by the tragedy at Ashdown, Holly's search leads her not only to the truth about Lavinia, but deeper into her own connection with the Winter Queen.
For fans of Kate Morton and Barbara Erskine comes an unforgettable novel about the power one lie can have over history.
Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from Harlequin Books in exchange for an honest review. This does not influence my rating or the content of my review in any way.
Every once in a while I get to return to my first love in life, history, through the magic of books. More accurately, I get to enjoy the thrill of trying to piece together the puzzle of people's pasts, while also going on a hunt for lost artifacts. House Of Shadows has that and more.
The story develops over the course of three different timelines, with three different main characters. While that may seem challenging, and confusing at times, Cornick does an amazing job at writing this book, that you never confuse the women with each other. They each have their different voices, their different character development, and each and every one of them has a slightly different story. You have Elizabeth Stuart, or the Winter Queen, the character that started it all. You have Lavinia Flyte, a courtesan that wrote a secret diary in which she details her life for a few years. And you have Holly Ansell, who is searching for her missing brother. All three women are very different and you really can't mistake one for the other, even if you don't take into account the different timelines.
I never knew about Elizabeth Stuart, or the Winter Queen. I loved finding out about her, and it made me curious to know more about her life. The Elizabeth Stuart we meed in Cornick's book is a very proud, very strong woman. She's also very brave. She's a queen without a throne, but she's an imposing figure, and you kind of forget that she's left without a country to rule. She commands respect, without being forceful about it, it just kind of happens. At the same time, she's a regular woman that has fears, doubts, that loves and hates. It was interesting to see duty and love war within her, and I love the way Cornick put that into perspective. I also loved how she portrayed the love story between Elizabeth and Lord Craven. Since there are no documents to prove that they were married, Cornick tells her own version of the story, while also, in the other two timelines, using what most of us do when thinking of the past, which is romanticizing certain events. I loved that. The history lover in me LOVED that. One of the events mentioned in the book was a supposed fight the two had when they were in London. Cornick does a fantastic job at showing that same event in two different occasions, one being as it was happening, and the other one as how history told it many, many years later. I loved that a lot.
You then have Lavinia Flyte, a courtesan from around the 1800s. Holly discovers Lavinia's old journal in her grandparent's house. As readers, we discover Lavinia's story just as Holly does, by reading her diary entries. So basically this is a book inside a book, which I absolutely loved. At the same time though, we find out that Lavinia's life has been reinterpreted in many ways throughout history, as Holly herself discovers upon doing some research about the young courtesan. So this diary is supposed to be the real history of Lavinia, as she herself wrote it. Lavinia is a young girl from a poor family that did not want to live in poverty, and when offered the chance to use her beauty and her body to get away from her poor family, she does it. Lavinia is very unapologetic about her life as a courtesan, she doesn't regret her decision because she knows that poverty is not something she wants to live with. She also isn't a dreamer, she talks about her life without dreaming of a better one, one where she'd find love and children. She simply writes about her daily life as is unfolds. Along the way she ends up at Ashdown House, a mansion built two centuries earlier by Lord Craven for Elizabeth Stuart. A lot of interesting things happen to her there, some are sad, some made me mad, some made me smile a little.
In the present time, we have Holly, who receives a disturbing phone call from her young niece, that hasn't seen her dad and Holly's older brother, Ben, in a very long time. She goes to Ashdown Park, and it is there that I felt as if Holly's life truly began. At first I had a little bit of trouble connecting with Holly. She seems a bit too obsessed to make her brother's disappearance into something that maybe it isn't, she's convinced something bad happened to him, while everyone else around her, including her sister in law and her grandparents, insist that Holly's vision of Ben is a little bit skewed. As I was reading, though, I realized that the reason for that is that she worshiped her brother, mostly because they were both very young when their parents died. Holly has basically had a really tragic childhood, even if she had her grandparents to take care of her and her brother. That aspect made me connect with her more, especially when I realized that she was a very guarded woman, so much so that she would almost sabotage herself in relation to others. I felt for her, really. The story goes to show what is left after someone's disappearance, with Holly trying to piece together the puzzle of what Ben was doing before he disappeared, what was he searching for, and how does it all connect to Elizabeth.
Intertwined with the stories of the three women is the mystery of two old artifacts, a mirror and a pearl, which originally belonged to Elizabeth. These artifacts are told to be cursed, and each woman is connected to them in one way or the other. I loved that there was a thread of mystery and of unknown mixed in with the lives of these women and the men connected to them. The pace isn't fast, but that doesn't take away from the story itself. I read this book pretty fast, even thought I resisted a little bit at the beginning, just because I knew that this was going to be a fantastic read and I wanted to savor it. However, once I really sat down with it, I couldn't put it down.
I loved this book. I'm only sad that it ended. The story prompted me to want to learn more about Elizabeth. There were some things that surprised me about this book, especially when I went to do my own little research on the people and places mentioned in this book, and without spoiling any of it to you, I'll just say that Cornick did an amazing job at blending fact and fiction into an amazing story. I'll definitely be reading more books by her.