If it didn't sound so reductive and patronising, Nicola Cornick's House of Shadows could be described as the thinking woman's chick lit. It is a fascinating blend of historical fiction and modern romance, with characters from widely different time periods living out their family dramas in the same backdrop of Ashdown House in Oxfordshire.
Arguably the most important character in the novel and undisputably the most modern, Holly Ansell is brought to The Mill House, her brother Ben's holiday cottage, formerly part of the Ashdown estate, when Ben suddenly goes missing. Desperate to unravel the mystery of his whereabouts, she picks up the family history research that he had started, convinced that the answers must lie within.
Through her findings, we discover the stories of Elizabeth Stuart, the Winter Queen, in the 1660's, and Lavinia Flyte, a 19th century courtesan, whose stories repeatedly echo each other, as well as Holly's own story : chaotic love lives, many obstacles standing in the way of their happily-ever-afters and the inexplicable reappearance of an ornate antique mirror and a pearl, both supposedly imbued with magical powers that can be devastatingly destructive.
While the idea of history repeating itself is central to the plot, each of the leading ladies fully possesses their own story and their own time period, providing a fascinating glimpse into the status of women throughout modern history. It is above all a cracking read, as uplifting and heartwarming as all good chicklit should be, despite the harrowing events going on in the background.
star rating : 4.5/5
RRP : £7.99
Disclosure : I received the book in order to share my honest opinion.