Reviewed by Emma Crowley
A rebellious daughter
1925. Among the ancient honey-coloured walls of the tiny island of Malta, strangers slip into the shadows and anyone can buy a new name. Rosalie Delacroix flees Paris for a dancer’s job in the bohemian clubs deep in its winding streets.
A sister with a secret
1944. Running from the brutality of war in France, Florence Baudin faces a new life. But her estranged mother makes a desperate request: to find her vanished sister, who went missing years before.
A rift over generations
Betrayals and secrets, lies and silence hang between the sisters. A faded last letter from Rosalie is Florence’s only clue, the war an immovable barrier – and time is running out…
Many thanks to Harper Collins UK via NetGalley for my copy of The Hidden Place to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.
The Hidden Palace is the second book in the Daughters of War series by Dinah Jefferies and having only recently read book number one the plot and characters were very much fresh in my mind. But if you are new to this series this can easily be read as a standalone as plenty of background information to the previous story is provided. But it doesn’t give any too many of the finer details which is a good thing. The plot picks up more or less from where the first instalment left off and yes the many questions I had by the time I reached the final word of Daughters of War were answered but only over time. Characters who I previously felt didn’t get enough focus now came into their own and even more of the background to the three sisters Helene, Florence and Elise was revealed and their mother Claudette finally featured and shared her heartbreak. I found the book to be a very good read overall and I loved how it focused on a different sister whilst at the same bringing the reader back to the past to uncover another of the family’s secrets.
We reunite with the characters just after Florence and Jack have arrived in England in 1944 having survived the treacherous journey from France and across the Pyrenees mountains. The specific reasons for Florence having to leave her sisters and her beloved house in the Dordogne region I won’t go into here for those that may have not yet read book one. Florence suffered unimaginable trauma and when a devastating secret becomes known to her she was faced with no other choice but to leave the place she loved so much. Through their journey Jack and Florence have become much closer but she knows she can’t thread in the footsteps of Helene whom it was clear had more than just a friendly affection for Jack. But the pair went through so much on their journey and she feels he understands her. Yet Jack is secretive too and when it is revealed that he too has suffered I was very surprised as there had been no illusion to it before. But they share a common bond and as Florence adjusts to her new life in England at Meadowbrook, Jack’s home, she wonders what direction her life path will now take especially as victory in the war seems to be more than just a far flung ray of hope in the distance, as it had been for so long.
I felt Florence was a vastly different character from the one I had read of before. The air of innocence about her was completely gone and not having her sisters being so reliant on her to provide for the household through her garden meant that she has to change and focus her mind on other things. She can begin to come into her own. The relationship all of the sisters had with their mother Claudette was strained and I was glad to see this was explored in much more detail. I desperately wanted to know what made Claudette so cold and to not have the loving mother daughter relationship so many of us were privileged to have. Florence travels to the Cotswolds to try and break down the barrier her mother has surrounded herself with. She won’t speak to Florence about certain things but she reveals she is desperate to find her sister who disappeared from Paris many years ago.
Tantalising teasers had been ever so briefly mentioned regarding Rosalie in book one and she was a character I desperately wanted to know more about. Claudette reveals she received a letter some years ago saying Rosalie needed help. Florence is tasked with going to Malta to find her. That’s if she is there at all. All she has to go on is a charm bracelet and that Rosalie has flaming red hair. I’ll admit as soon as Rosalie’s story started to have more prominence the book definitely picked up the pace. Up until that point I found it to be very descriptive with not much happening. For me Rosalie’s story was stronger than Florence’s although things for Florence did take several turns towards the end of the book. Florence is torn between a rock and a hard place. She desperately wants to wants to go and find Rosalie but war prevents her from doing that up to a point but also with her mother continuing to be so cold and aloof should she even bother? Things developed for Florence in England and she grows in strength as a person but yet guilt does eat away at her too. By the end of the book I felt there was still a lot more in store for her.
Rosalie was by far the best character, I couldn’t get enough of her. 1925 and a scandal sees her disappearing from Paris, from the family who constrained her and wished for her just to marry and bear children. But Rosalie was free spirited and just wanted to be a dancer. She is trapped by expectation but was brave to escape when given the chance even if it was not in the best of circumstances. She has strong viewpoints and I admired how she always stuck to her principals especially when she discovers some shady and underhand things going on in Malta which is where she ventures to when her parents turn their back on her. I thought it was brilliant the way the author raised an issue which is still very much prevalent today as you forget that things like this have existed for a very long time. It showed Rosalie’s tenacity and strength to fight for what she believes in as injustices to others are being served.
She has spirit and daring, is strong and wilful and always stands up for what she believes in. I enjoyed reading of her transition to Malta and although I could sense deep down that leaving Paris in the way and on the terms that she did was not what she truly wanted she knew that to be independent and follow her dreams she had to forge her own path without the support of her family. I enjoyed how Rosalie’s story developed and could see echoes of it with Florence’s too. Things for Rosalie are not all smooth sailing and romance, danger, secrets and tragedy all feature for her amidst the street of Valetta. But will she be reunited with her family? Will Florence succeed in her task?
The Hidden Palace was an enjoyable read which has moved the overall story along very well. I did think for the author not to be able to travel to Malta whilst writing this book due to Covid meant that some of the descriptions of this unique island didn’t spring to life as much as I would have wanted to. It’s not the authors fault but you could tell that she had to draw on research from at home rather than on terra firma but really that’s only a minor issue that I picked up on and it didn’t detract too much from my overall enjoyment of the story. Many secrets and lies are exposed through the book and some are resolved but yet the way the book ended has provided plenty of substance and issues to deal with for the final instalment - Night Train to Marrakech.
Again things were left on a cliff hanger when it comes to the sisters’ relationship and I was sad to leave them go once more knowing I will have a longer wait to see what happens next. But the title for book number three has my interest piqued. I’m interested to see which sister the story will focus on and how does Marrakech fit into the overall plot because it certainly hasn’t been previously mentioned. I assume another intriguing journey is ahead but for whom I’m not sure but I will certainly be back to read the conclusion of what has been a compelling read with many strands which so far have woven together perfectly. Historical fiction fans and of course like me long time fans of Dinah Jefferies will love every moment of this book. I’m just sad to leave Florence and co behind but I’ll be ready and waiting come August 2023 to discover lots more from the Baudin sisters.