London, 1662 

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.


I'm back reviewing and blogging after a while with a book I liked very much: House of Shadows by Nicola Cornick ( Harlequin Mira UK, 2015). It is fast paced, intriguing, well written and thoroughly researched and it includes all the elements to make it my “cup of coffee” (yes, I like coffee more than tea): fascinating historical eras, beautiful English landscapes, gripping plot and,   last but not least, passionate romance.
Three parallels narrative threads  unroll in  three different time settings keeping  the reader hooked and,  little by little, interweaving to form the tapestry that is the solution of the initial mystery: the sudden, inexplicable disappearance of  Ben Ansell.

Nicola Cornick’s  new time-slip novel champions three beautifully written heroines:  Elizabeth Stuart, James I’s daughter and queen of Bohemia, the 17th century "Winter Queen” ; Lavinia Flyte, a 19th-century courtesan who wrote a memoir,  and  Holly Ansell, a present-day woman in distress to whom is truly easy to relate. Holly is desperate after  her brother disappears and her long-lasting relationship with Guy wrecks.  

Ashdown House
The three  women are connected one to the other somehow through a place,   Ashdown House, a Dutch-style country house in Oxfordshire, and two magic objects ,  an Italian jewelled mirror and the Sistrin pearl .

A fascinating tale must also have fascinating heroes in order to counterbalance its charming heroines. House of Shadows has a great one, a historical figure who is not so popular but on whom Nicola Cornick has been obsessed since she started volunteering as a guide at Ashdown House: William Craven. After making his acquaintance in House of Shadows,  I can truly sympathize with the author’s fascination: he is handsome, brave, loyal, selfless, resourceful and a passionate lover. His love story with the Winter Queen is a life-long,  complicated relationship based on his total dedication.

Nicola Cornick says of him:  "It is William Craven’s unswerving loyalty and honour that impresses me the most, I think. At a time when many men changed allegiance depending on the political situation he was utterly steadfast in his devotion to the Stuart cause. I admire that sort of integrity".

To know more about the historical figure that inspired the character

read Nicola Cornick’s post about William Craven: London Hero

 Elizabeth Stuart Queen of Bohemia and William Craven

Also Lavinia Flyte, who is a courtesan,  has her own romantic entanglement against all odds. Her hero is Robert Verity, a surveyor officer who promises her a happy free life after her sad years as a courtesan.
Holly Ansell, while investigating on her brother’s mysterious disappearance, finds and reads Lavinia's memoir and herself inexplicably attracted at first sight to her own handsome present – day hero, ex PTSD sufferer,  ex-veteran, now rich enterpreneur, Mark . 

The shifts in time are perfectly crafted and don't blur but enrich the narrating flow involving the reader more and more page after page until a very satisfying ending. Everything is made clear, the mysteries are solved  but I personally was left with great curiosity to know more about the historical figures and  Ashdown House. Mission accomplished, Ms Cornick!

A great summer read for fans of time-slip tales and historical fiction. Quoting from the book cover:  “for fans of Barbara Erskine and Kate Morton comes an unforgettable novel about the power one lie can have over history”.

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