Thursday, 3 November 2016

Emma's Review: The Shadow Sister by Lucinda Riley

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

Star D'Aplièse is at a crossroads in her life after the sudden death of her beloved father - the elusive billionaire, named Pa Salt by his six daughters, all adopted by him from the four corners of the world. He has left each of them a clue to their true heritage, but Star - the most enigmatic of the sisters - is hesitant to step out of the safety of the close relationship she shares with her sister CeCe. In desperation, she decides to follow the first clue she has been left, which leads her to an antiquarian bookshop in London, and the start of a whole new world . . .

A hundred years earlier, headstrong and independent Flora MacNichol vows she will never marry. She is happy and secure in her home in the Lake District, living close to her idol, Beatrix Potter, when machinations outside her control lead her to London, and the home of one of Edwardian society's most notorious players, Alice Keppel. Flora is pulled between passionate love and duty to her family, but finds herself a pawn in a game - the rules of which are only known to others, until a meeting with a mysterious gentleman unveils the answers that Flora has been searching for her whole life . . .

As Star learns more of Flora's incredible journey, she too goes on a voyage of discovery, finally stepping out of the shadow of her sister and opening herself up to the possibility of love.

Amazon links: Kindle or Hardcover

After waiting impatiently for what seems like forever, but really it was only since November last year, Lucinda Riley has made a triumphant return with book three in a planned seven series – The Shadow Sister. As soon as I finished The Storm Sister last year I just wanted to read Star's story and discover more clues behind the story loosely based on the mythology of the Seven Sisters star cluster. Lucinda has long been a favourite author of mine and though it may sound like an overused cliché she truly does get better and better with each book which is not to take away from what has come before in the slightest. This third book is as hefty as the previous two in the series, at well over 600 pages, but that is just a delight for her fans as there was so much to savour. I purposely kept this book for a time when I knew I could sit down uninterrupted for long periods in order to revel in Star's journey.In fact I read it in two days so engrossed was I once again in the simply brilliant writing of Lucinda Riley. 

Star like the other sisters is beginning her journey to discover her true heritage following the death of her beloved father Pa Salt. I say discover her true family because Star and her five sisters had been adopted by Pa Slat from various locations all over the world and brought to live at his home Atlantis in Switzerland with the mother figure of Ma there to care and look over each sister. There are only six sisters that we know of as the seventh is missing or was never brought to Atlantis. We have read of Maia and Ally's story but for those of you that haven't there is no problem beginning with the story of Star but trust me once you have revelled in this fantastic story you'll be straight out to buy the first two books. Hints to the back story of Maia and Ally are deftly slotted in throughout the first few chapters of the book and Ally makes some brief appearances in this story and it was nice to read of Star's viewpoint re. Ally. 

The previous two books had all opened with the sisters returning to Atlantis following the shocking, unexpected news of Pa Salt's death and the girls receiving a letter from him and a note containing the co-ordinates of where they had been found. So I was expecting the same here but instead and it was a nice change we meet Star and her sister CeCe in London as they are both coming to terms with a huge loss. CeCe seems to be moving on more quickly rushing into buying an apartment and getting going on an art course, whereas as Star is still more in shock and reserved but that is her nature. We have brief glimpses of CeCe throughout the story and at this point I can't say I connected with her that much or dare I say it even liked her. She seemed to put unnecessary pressure on Star and use her as a crutch preventing her for so long from becoming independent and moving on with her life. The sisters had been free spirits travelling the world for several years but now solid foundations are being set but I'm not sure Star was ready for that in the slightest. But this is not CecCe's story and I am sure with book four to come and reading her story I will fall in love with her just as much as I have with Maia, Ally and Star.

Lucinda is the master of a story containing a dual timeline and here it was as strong as ever. We read of Star as she navigates the present day in a bid to unlock the past and the secret to her ending up in the care of Pa Salt, and in the past we read of a young remarkable woman Flora MacNichol who like Star has to journey to find the woman she wants to be and endures many ups and downs along the way in her bid to find true love whilst not forsaking the happiness of others. Quite often in a book of this nature I do find that one aspect of the dual storyline is better than the other and for me that is normally the sections set in the past. I would find myself rushing through the sections set in the present day in order to get back to what was unfolding in the past but not so here. Both aspects are as strong as each other and it's a credit to Lucinda how she kept all the storylines flowing so seamlessly interweaving so many characters and their secrets. 

I'll admit there were two reveals that I hadn't seen coming at all and I was pleasantly surprised as normally I guess what is going on but Lucinda had the wool pulled firmly over my eyes. This is a delight in an age when all answers are at the click of a button. I suppose on reflection I should have seen them coming, the clues were subtly in place and I was kicking myself for not guessing but really it added all the more to my enjoyment of the book. So many plot lines were ongoing throughout the book I'm amazed how Lucinda manages to keep everything straight in her head but it just goes to show what a phenomenal storyteller she is.

Star undergoes a transformation throughout this book and it is subtle, and not overpowering, instead she grows as she delves deeper into her history and I found her to be like a caterpillar going into the cocoon and emerging as butterfly having undergone a complete change. Thanks to the information left by Pa Salt she finds herself at Arthur Morston Books in London and soon working for the enigmatic Orlando Forbes. Orlando was a utter joy to read of and what better for a book lover like me than to have Star's story partly set in a world of books and also it was genius how Beatrix Potter later fits into the story. It's no coincidence that Star found herself here and soon she is encompassed into Orlando's life and in doing so starts to unravel teasing hints as to where she may have come from.

Lucinda then moves the story to the Kent countryside and High Weald house where Marguerite and young Rory live  whilst Orlando's brother Mouse lives across the road in the farmhouse. The setting was so brilliantly described that you knew Lucinda had enjoyed writing this aspect of the book so much. The country setting and the surrounding areas came alive and it seemed so peaceful and a place where Star could restore herself and come to terms with her fathers death and her relationship with CeCe and therefore allowing herself to move forward into the future. Star really came into her own here with her cooking skills and caring for Rory but I sensed she was starting to have some form of peace and acceptance as to who she wanted to be and the past was being put firmly to rest. It was time for Star to stop standing in the shadows and step into the light and I was thoroughly engrossed in her story in the present and more than intrigued to see how it connected with the story of Flora MacNichol.

So what of the story of Flora MacNichol, a young girl of 19 when we first meet her living at Esthwaite Hall in Cumbria with her family? She is a free spirit who loves nothing better than roaming the countryside sketching and painting aspects of nature that catch her eye. She is an animal lover as is evident by the menagerie of wild animals she accumulates in her bedroom. She has not been presented to society due to lack of family funds but yet this does not bother her in the least. A chance visit by Archie Vaughan, a man who she would not like in the slightest due to an incident when she was smaller, sets in motion a chain of events which will affect all aspects of Flora's life for many years to come. Flora now has feelings for Archie which were never there before but unfortunately so too does her sister Aurelia who is getting her turn at a season in London. Flora proved to be the most selfless person time and time again. Her own needs and desires were firmly put to the back of her mind as she wanted the best for her own family regardless of her own personal wishes. I loved her as a character and adored reading of her journey but the question always remained at the back of my mind just how was she connected to Star? We do discover the answers towards the end of the book but by that stage I was so wrapped up in everything going on that the answers didn't seem as important as before. It wasn't the crux of the story for me, more so for me it was the journey Star and Flora undergo that made for a stunning read. Flora finds herself in the London home of Alice Keppel and from here on everything she has known changes forever and quite unbeknownst to her she is a pawn in a much bigger game. Figures from history make an appearance in Flora's story and I found myself putting the book aside to look up Alice Keppel and a few others to discover their story and it only added even more to my enjoyment of The Shadow Sister. I won't say any more re. Flora but we stay with her for many years to come and her story was fascinating and enthralling. 

For me I really do feel The Seven Sisters is destined to become a classic. It will be a series that I will reread time and time again and that's saying something considering I never reread books. I know once we reach the end of the series I will want to go back and begin book one again as there are definitely hints that I have missed out on. To write a seven book series must have seemed very daunting for Lucinda but now having finished The Shadow Sister I can say she is pulling it off so very well that I am just falling deeper and deeper in love with her writing. Even though I have read everything Lucinda has written since Hothouse Flower it's with this series she is truly coming into her own. I was bereft when I finished The Shadow Sister, it was simply magnificent in every sense of the word. I found myself slowing down my reading to eek out the last 100 pages as I knew once I had read the last line it would be another year before I could once again indulge in the story of the seven sisters.

If you haven't read anything by Lucinda before I urge you to buy this book as every turn of the pages kept bringing more and more surprises that had me hooked on Star's story from beginning to end. I have a sneaking suspicion as to where CeCe's story might take her in the world but I'll have to wait impatiently to find out. Thank you Lucinda for writing such a brilliant book that deserves nothing less than to be consumed in as few sittings as possible.

Many thanks to Lucinda for organising a copy of The Storm Sister to be sent to me to review from Pan MacMillan and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

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