Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Can one promise change the fate of two women decades apart?
War rages across Europe, but Invermoray House is at peace – until the night of Constance’s 21st birthday, when she’s the only person to see a Spitfire crash into the loch. Rescuing the pilot and vowing to keep him hidden, Constance finds herself torn between duty to her family and keeping a promise that could cost her everything.
Kate arrives in the Highlands to turn Invermoray into a luxury B&B, only to find that the estate is more troubled than she’d imagined. But when Kate discovers the house has a dark history, with Constance’s name struck from its records, she knows she can’t leave until the mystery is solved . . .
Many thanks to Avon Books UK via NetGalley for my copy of The Forbidden promise to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.
The Forbidden Promise is the second book from Lorna Cook following on from her brilliant début The Forgotten Village which was published last year. Again the story is told in a duel timeline format and as I am a big fan of this type of writing I was more than pleased to delve into the book. This book is really character driven focusing on two women Constance and Kate separated by many years but who are both seeking something new in life.
August 2019 and Kate is escaping from London after her successful career in PR has come crashing down all thanks to some high powered businessman who spun some lies and made Kate out to be the culprit. Kate is seeking peace and quiet and space for her to rebuild her reputation away from all those who know about the awful situation that unfolded. Her best friend Jenny made her apply for two jobs from away from the city and Kate has been successful in securing a position in Scotland. She has a six month contract to work at Invermoray House which is a beautiful estate surrounded by woodland with a loch at its centre. The loch will go on to play a crucial role in the story for many different reasons. Kate thinks she is there to provide some PR for the house in order for more tourists to visit. On arrival little does she realise any form of visitor or guest is non existent and her first encounter with James Langley does not go to plan either. Liz, his mother, had kept secret the fact that she had employed Kate and this does not go down well at all with James. Clearly, there is a lot more going on than first meets the eye when it comes to Invermoray House and its residents and the same can be said for its past history during the war years as well.
For the majority of the book James came across as being surly, sullen, argumentative and just not open to discussion or new ideas. But underneath it all there was something about him that was vulnerable and that if Kate pushed that little harder he would accept the help she was offering in order to turn the fortunes of the house around. I could see the chemistry developing between the pair but neither of them wanted to give into it. They were both stubborn and there was lots of miscommunication but I felt things went on more of an even keel for them when they started to work as a team to bring their ideas and innovations for the house to fruition. Also as they started to dig back into the past as to what had happened in the year that Constance celebrated her 21st birthday, things got very intriguing.
I loved the chapters set back during 1940 as we get to know Constance. We meet her on the night of her 21st birthday as she flees from the house as unwanted advances from a member of the opposite sex do nothing to make her enjoy the celebrations. As she sits overlooking the loch, she sees something strange and startling and before she knows it she is in the water rescuing a pilot who has been shot down. As his plane sinks into the water, Constance rescues Matthew and with this heroic action Constance's life is changed forever. She takes Matthew to the ghillie's cottage which has been abandoned since he left for war. The events of the night and Matthew himself must remain a secret for Matthew says he does not wish to return to his squadron. Constance is torn between a rock and a hard place, she knows the right thing to do but there is also a part of her who longs to go against convention. She keeps Matthew a secret but at what cost?
Constance was a young woman from a privileged background but she felt stifled by the constraints placed against her. She longs to do her bit for the war but is prevented from doing so by her parents. So in some small way by sheltering and protecting Matthew she believes she is alleviating some of her guilt at not being allowed out into the wider world instead of hiding behind the walls of Invermoray House. Up until now she had been threading water, with no sense of herself but upon rescuing Matthew she finds purpose and feels renewed. The friendship that develops between the pair was slow and steady and you can tell that there is more to come when it comes to matters of the heart. But is Constance just rushing into things for want of some excitement or is this her true calling in life. She put herself in great danger and made plenty of sacrifices but would it ultimately led to danger, loss and disappointment? At times I thought she lost sense of the bigger picture and wasn't truly thinking fully of the consequences of her actions. If Matthew was discovered and Constance's part in it all surely the fallout would be catastrophic.
I loved the element of a character in the present uncovering secrets and mysteries from the past but I felt at times there needed to be more of this. I thought Kate didn't investigate enough as to the background of the family living at Invermoray and why someone seemed to have been written out of said family. Yes she started asking questions but I never felt a really urge from here to dig that little bit deeper to discover just what had happened and why. Towards the end she did get a little spurt under her to seek out old newspapers and to do some online research but I would have loved if this had been constant throughout the book. It just felt that it happened a little bit too late and therefore made the ending slightly rushed. Perhaps another chapter or two focusing on the historical element would have allowed for some more exploration as to what happened to certain characters and why. It read as if too much was being fitted into it in order to answer all the questions and angles that had arisen throughout the course of the story.
All that said this was another very good read from Lorna Cook and I did enjoy the story. I mean that twist in the last few chapters I literally stopped and said oh my God. How could I not have seen that coming? As truly everything you had thought up until that point was turned on its head. Instantly I had changed my opinion of certain characters that perhaps I had put faith and trust in as we got to know them over the course of the story. I know it was wrong to do that but that was my gut reaction and I think many other readers will feel the same. The reason for such a twist was very well explained and justified but it did make me really feel for the main characters as these revelations led to consequences that I couldn't have foreseen occurring.
The last few chapters were startling and tense as a whole range of emotions came rushing to the surface and the fallout for all involved led to heartbreak, devastation, anger and trauma. The reader really runs the gauntlet with the characters and you desperately hope that some form of love, happiness and acceptance can be found in the most desperate of times. I hope Lorna Cook is hard at work on book number three because she has shown she is a fantastic author of historical fiction and deserves lots of success especially with this new book.
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