Book review: The Shadow Sister by Lucinda Riley

From the majestic Lake District of Beatrix Potter to high society Edwardian London and the lush countryside of Kent, brilliant storyteller Lucinda Riley returns with another book in her stunning Seven Sister series.
The Shadow SisterThe Shadow Sister
The Shadow Sister

Already optioned as a multi-season Hollywood TV series, this is the third thrilling saga in an ambitious seven-book project featuring a family of adopted sisters, with each young woman’s tale loosely based on the mythology of the star cluster known as the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters.

The Seven Sisters story began on the shores of Lake Geneva where the six D’Aplièse sisters – the seventh is mysteriously missing – gathered in their luxury childhood home Atlantis after the death of their elusive billionaire adoptive father Pa Salt and were handed tantalising clues about their true heritage.

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Carried along on a tide of tears, revelations, hope and tragedy, each sister journeys across the world – and into the past – to find their roots, but the spellbinding mystery of Pa Salt always remains. Who was he? And where is the seventh sister?

The dramatic accounts of the six very different sisters, each filled with romance, glamour and real history, have already taken us to sunny Rio de Janeiro and the icy beauty of Oslo in Norway but here we stick closer to home – and the dizzy heights of the British throne – for a heart-stopping story of scandal, betrayal, love, loss and redemption.

Star D’Aplièse has always lived quietly in the shadow of her sister CeCe but the sudden death of her beloved father has left her rudderless and convinced that now is the time to strike out on her own and find ‘a proper life.’

Stepping away from the safety of her close relationship with CeCe, however, is not easy and in desperation, Star decides to follow the first clue left to her by Pa Salt… an old-fashioned antiquarian bookshop in Kensington owned by the young but eccentric Orlando Forbes who persuades her to take up a job as his assistant.

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Through Orlando, Star becomes a regular visitor to High Weald, the beautiful but shabby Tudor home and estate of Orlando, his more rugged and abrasive brother ‘Mouse,’ their cousin Marguerite Vaughan and seven-year-old Rory.

And it is here that she learns of her connections to another of her father’s clues, a woman called Flora MacNichol, whose diaries transport Star to the Lake District in the first decade of the 20th century…

Headstrong and independent, 19-year-old Flora vows she will never marry. She is happy and secure in her home, Esthwaite Hall at Near Sawrey, just a stone’s throw away from the cottage of her childhood idol, Beatrix Potter, with whom she shares a love of animals and the great outdoors.

But Flora’s calm existence is shattered when she is forced by events beyond her control to leave Esthwaite Hall forever and head for London to become an informal governess to the two daughters of Alice Keppel, one of Edwardian society’s most notorious players.

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When Flora unexpectedly falls in love, she is pulled between passionate romance and duty to her family, and finds herself ‘an innocent pawn in a game that everyone knows the rules of, except me.’ Will she ever find answers to the questions that have haunted her all her life?

As Star learns more of Flora’s incredible journey, she sets sail on her own voyage of discovery, finally stepping out of the shadow of her sister and opening herself up to the possibility of a new life… and a lasting love.

Complex, intensely private and sensitive, Star is the most intriguing sister yet and her emotion-packed, seductive story – based on real historical figures, places and events – is a magical mix of beautiful English landscapes, fascinating literary motifs and hidden, soaring passions.

Whether it’s Beatrix Potter tending her animals at her picturesque 17th-century Hill Top home near Ambleside, the aristocratic Keppels guarding their secrets in London’s Portman Square, or the Forbes and Vaughan families living with the legacies of their family history, this is a gripping and evocative story with a bewitching twist in its tail.

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Riley can’t put a foot wrong in a series that is spectacular in both its breadth of imaginative power and its vast tapestry of people, backdrops and events, all stitched together through different timelines, generations and countries.

Past and present are woven seamlessly together, each distinctive character perfectly portrayed and with drama, surprises, high emotion and captivating romance at every turn of the page, all the loose ends of each sister’s journey tied with perfect precision and captivating hints of an ongoing mystery, The Seven Sisters series is proving to be a remarkable reading phenomenon.

(Macmillan, hardback, £16.99)