My rating: 3 of 5 stars to Nicola Cornick‘s House of Shadows, an ARC I received through NetGalley last week in exchange for an honest review. I realized it takes time to build up a good rating before publishers choose you to read new releases by famous authors, and so I set about choosing books by new authors or unknown authors that I might enjoy. Little did I realize, Cornick has several published series I could have gotten familiar with. While this book’s plot and setting initially attracted me, I feel it could have been stronger in the execution. Let’s get to the deets:
Holly receives a phone call from her 6-year-old niece in the middle of the night, noting her father (Holly’s brother), Ben, has gone missing. Holly takes the long train from London to a distant Oxfordshire town where their family owns an old English home. Ben had been staying there for a few days doing research on the family tree when he disappeared. Holly’s just separated from her fiance and chooses to stay at the country home and search for Ben. As she traces clues, she learns he may have stumbled upon (1) the pearl and (2) the crystal mirror that the Winter Queen of a German duchy, Elizabeth Stuart, of the English Stuarts (Charles and James, Scottish kings) used with her husband, Frederick, as powerful objects to create fire and floods when in their wars. They were originally given to Mary Queen of Scots by her cousin Elizabeth I of England, as a wedding present after being previously stolen from another member of the family. The story is told through three time periods: (1) 1630’s with Elizabeth, (2) 1800s with Lavinia and (3) 2000s with Holly. Somehow they are all connected, and it seems someone used the power of the pearl and the mirror to wreck havoc over the centuries. But how it all comes together, who is related to whom, and what happened to Ben are at the crux of this multi-level story.
1. The story is intriguing. Real people (Elizabeth, Frederick, Mary, etc.) are woven with fictional people to create an imaginative story to capture readers attention. You’ll find yourself flipping between the book and Wikipedia trying to figure out which parts are true. Did the pearl exist? Was the affair real? Did she really go on to have 11 children that eventually gave rise to most of the European thrones?
2. The story is very descriptive and you will clearly picture all of the setting and backdrop. It seems quite beautiful. You can separate easily from the views of the house in 2 of the 3 time periods, given it didn’t exist in one of them. The best word I can use is to say it is “pretty.” It sounds like the author has been dreaming of this story for a long time, so kudos to her for bringing it to full fruition.
It felt like something was missing, and the parts that were present didn’t fully line up for me. I love telling stories over multi-time periods, trying to figure out the connections among each of the characters. And some parts of this story handled it well; however, the ending was rushed which felt like I didn’t have time to absorb the consequences of each lie, affair or murder that occurred over the 400 year period. I think there should have been less focus on the current story’s secondary characters (Ben’s potential affair, Holly’s hook-ups, the multiple friends who didn’t really contribute much) and more focus on drawing out the connections among the different families over the years.
Given it had some good parts and some so-so parts, I give this one a 3… I’d recommend it for fans of this genre who like things a little open-ended, who like royal and non-royal connections and who love the English countryside.
I’d read a sample of this author’s work again, as the writing and language was good (a little slow at times), but the plot would have to be pretty strong for me to jump on the next one. That said, it is a fair book — just not as good as others in this genre that I’ve read and loved.