House of Shadows

Written by Nicola Cornick
Review by Marina Maxwell

Professional glass-engraver Holly Ansell receives a frantic call from her young niece saying her father Ben, Holly’s brother, has disappeared. Holly rushes from London to Oxfordshire to find out what has happened, but there is no trace of him. The only clue is that Ben uncharacteristically has become interested in family history, and Holly sets out to investigate why.

This is an intriguing journey through time that weaves between 17th-century power plays during the life of the Winter Queen, Elizabeth of Bohemia; the memoirs of an early 19th-century courtesan, Lavinia Flyte; and a modern-day missing-person case. At its heart is an old house that is connected to each of the women in some way, as well as two dangerous fantastical objects that were once used for divination by the Knights of the Rosy Cross – a diamond-encrusted crystal mirror and a fabulous jewel known as the Sistrin Pearl.

As often happens with time-travel or multi-period novels, some sections can work better than others, but in this case the three strands are well-plotted, and all come together in a satisfying way. Those who enjoy more romance than facts in their novels are well catered for in the ups and downs of the three respective love stories, while others keener on the historical aspects will discover this lesser-known Queen Elizabeth, sister of King Charles I, and the role she played as wife of the ill-fated Frederick, Elector Palatine, and her rumoured relationship with William, 1st Earl of Craven, builder of Ashdown House. There are echoes of that real Regency courtesan and memoirist Harriette Wilson in the character of Lavinia Flyte. Holly is perhaps the least interesting through no fault of her own, simply because she is contemporary.

A must-read for fans of romantic time-slip novels.