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.
When I was contacted about author Nicola Cornick’s newest release ‘House of Shadows’, I immediately knew this was a book I definitely wanted to read (and not just because of the gorgeous cover!). One of the things I love most is visiting old country houses. Whenever I go on a trip to the UK I try to plan in as many visits to National Trust estates as I can, and I have actually visited Ashdown House, where ‘House of Shadows’ is set. Nicola Cornick volunteers as a guide and local historian at this National Trust property and I love how it inspired her to write ‘House of Shadows.’ The book will be released by Mira on November 5th and I am really excited to be part of the blog tour for the novel today, with not just a review but also an interview with Nicola herself, so be sure to scroll down and have a read!
Holly Ansell finds herself travelling to Oxfordshire in the middle of the night when she receives a frantic phone call, revealing her brother Ben has suddenly gone missing. Holly’s gut feeling tells her something is going on, because Ben wouldn’t just leave his family without letting anyone know. After a bit of research, Holly discovers Ben was actually in the middle of some research into Ashdown House and its inhabitants and history. A mysterious crystal mirror eventually leads Holly to the stories of 19th century courtesan Lavinia and Elizabeth Stuart, also known as the Winter Queen, who lived in the 17th century. In a way, Elizabeth, Lavinia and Holly are all connected to one another and it’s up to Holly to discover what that connection is and hopefully bring back her brother Ben…
‘House of Shadows’ is a fabulous time-slip novel which intrigued me from start to finish and a read which I thoroughly enjoyed. The book is set in three different time periods: the 17th century, the 19th century, and the present day, with three female characters at its core. I loved the fact that the story of Elizabeth Stuart, the Winter Queen, is actually based on factual history. Lavinia, the 19th century courtesan was a fascinating addition with her tale, and main protagonist Holly brought it all together. While I didn’t really warm to Holly as much as I would have liked (there was just something a bit distant about her as a character), I was interested by the story and didn’t want to put the book down until everything had been solved; it really kept me guessing until the last few chapters.
I love historical time-slip novels and this is definitely a great one with topics such as power struggles, an intriguing mystery and a nice touch of romance as well. However, one of the definite strengths of the book is its setting. I think it probably helped that I actually visited Ashdown House myself, but it’s a gorgeous country house and it suited the story so well; I loved it and it really added something special to the novel for me. The book is quite long with around 450 pages, but I do think this length was needed to explain everything and provide the reader with enough detail to understand everything. Overall, I thought ‘House of Shadows’ is a real page-turner; a captivating historical romance with a fascinating element of mystery added to it. I really enjoyed it and definitely recommend it to any historical romance fans!
Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest review.
Interview with Nicola Cornick!
I'm so excited to be part of the blog tour for 'House of Shadows' today and next to my review, I also have a special interview with Nicola Cornick herself to share with all of you!
Can you tell us something about your novel, ‘House of Shadows’?
House of Shadows is a historical mystery laced with intrigue, romance and the supernatural. It’s an epic story across three hundred and fifty years of history but it’s also the intensely personal story of three women dealing with the challenges of their time.
Where did you get the inspiration for your novel?
The main inspiration for the book was the fascinating relationship between Elizabeth, the Winter Queen, who was the sister of King Charles I, and William Craven, a gallant cavalier to whom she may have been secretly married. I came across the story when I was researching the history of the Craven family and it intrigued me.
Can you tell us a bit more about the main characters in the book?
Holly is the main character in the contemporary strand of the book. She is on a desperate quest to discover why her brother Ben has disappeared. It forces her to step outside of the comfortable life she has built for herself and question the things that are truly important to her. Elizabeth, the Winter Queen, has to fight for what she believes in after the death of her husband Frederick, and be strong in order to secure the future of her children. And Lavinia, a Regency courtesan, is challenged by the conflict between love and self-interest.
One of the most important settings in the book is Ashdown House in Oxfordshire, a National Trust property where you volunteer as a guide. Why did you decide to use this house as the setting of your novel?
Ashdown House is one of those places that enchants people. We have visitors who come to look round and are completely swept away by its beauty and the history behind it. In my case I was intrigued by the love story of William Craven and Elizabeth: Did they marry in secret? Were all the rumours that swirled about their relationship true? The combination of Ashdown’s stunning appearance and the Elizabeth and William’s story was totally inspiring to me.
Do you have a favourite spot at Ashdown House which you’re willing to share with us?
My favourite place at Ashdown is the grand staircase, which sweeps up through four floors to the roof terrace. I have indulged in the occasional daydream of dressing up in a 17th century gown and pretending to be Elizabeth! One of the things I love about the stair is that William Craven, being a soldier, had it built wide enough to stage a sword fight on it. The 17th century was a politically unstable time and he knew there was always the chance he might have to defend his house by force. We staged a re-enactment a few years ago and it was terrifying!
The novel is set in three different time periods. Why did you decide to do this and why did you pick these particular periods?
I originally started with dual time periods; Holly unravels Elizabeth and William’s story in the present as part of her quest to find her brother. Then I thought it would be fun to have part of the story in the form of a diary or memoir, which is where Lavinia came in. I have a very soft spot for Lavinia. Her character is based on that of the famous courtesan Harriette Wilson, who was the mistress of the 7th Lord Craven. I have always enjoyed writing Regency-set stories and so I loved telling Lavinia’s story in her own words. Elizabeth, Holly and Lavinia are all bound together through time and destiny and it was huge fun – and a huge challenge – to bring their stories together across the 17th century, the 19th century and the present.
Can you perhaps tell us something about your future plans? Are you perhaps already working on a next novel?
I am! My next book is similar in that it is a historical mystery with romance and the supernatural mixed in. This one features two time periods, the Tudor era and the present. It tells the story of Mary Seymour, daughter of Queen Catherine Parr and Thomas Seymour. The official records of Mary end when she was a child and I wanted to write about what might have happened to her in her adult life. I love taking a real-life historical mystery and speculating on what happened next!
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
I would always encourage aspiring writers to believe in themselves and to keep writing even if they suffer knock backs on their road to publication. It took me 12 years to get my first book published. Writing requires determination and application as well as imagination!
What is the last book you read that you’d like to recommend to others?
One of my “keeper” books that I read and re-read is Daphne Du Maurier’s Frenchman’s Creek. For me, she is the queen of historical mystery and intrigue. It was Daphne Du Maurier who started me off on a reading journey that led to Barbara Erskine and Susanna Kearsley and the love of timeslip stories I have today!
And last but not least, if you had to describe ‘House of Shadows’ in just three words, which words would you pick?