The Sun Sister by Lucinda Riley: A dazzling, daring, and deeply insightful novel - book review -

Follow the fiery, fiercely proud and fascinating black sibling Electra on a journey from cool, contemporary Manhattan to her roots in the heat and dust of mid-20th century East Africa.

By Pam Norfolk
Tuesday, 28th July 2020, 3:45 pm
The Sun Sister
The Sun Sister

International bestselling author Lucinda Riley turns up the heat – in more ways than one – in the sixth, sizzling and penultimate installment of her thrilling Seven Sisters series.

The Sun Sister is her most dazzling, daring, and deeply insightful novel yet as we follow the fiery, fiercely proud and fascinating black sibling Electra on a journey from cool, contemporary Manhattan to her roots in the heat and dust of mid-20th century East Africa.

It’s an epic and utterly enthralling adventure in a series that has turned Riley into a writing phenomenon, and is currently in development with a major Hollywood production company. Across countries, continents, real history and timelines, she has brought us storytelling on a grand and groundbreaking scale, opening up the world through a rich tapestry of multi-generational mysteries, dramas and heady romance.

Every novel in this seven-book series has travelled to breathtaking locations and introduced us to some of the influential people of history to bring readers the gripping life stories of the six very different D’Aplièse sisters… with the seventh sister still unaccountably missing.

Each was adopted as a baby by an elusive Swiss billionaire, known to them as Pa Salt, and each is now in search of their hidden heritage using tantalising clues left to them after his mysterious death.

To outsiders, 26-year-old Electra D’Aplièse seems to be the woman with everything… as one of the world’s top models, this toweringly tall black beauty is rich, famous, and lives in a Manhattan penthouse stuffed with clothes, comfort and luxury.

Yet beneath the veneer, Electra’s already tenuous control over her state of mind has been rocked by the recent break-up with her musician boyfriend, who left her for another woman, and the mysterious death of her adoptive father, Pa Salt.

So ‘messed up’ that she can’t even tell her therapist the truth of her increasingly downward mental spiral, Electra, who left home when she was aged just sixteen, is turning more and more to alcohol and drugs to make up for a life that now seems ‘false and greedy and meaningless.’

Despite her happy childhood, Electra has been inexplicably ‘angry’ since she could walk and talk… she didn’t know who she really was then and she still doesn’t. But just as those around her start to seriously fear for her health, Electra receives a letter from a complete stranger who claims to be her grandmother.

In 1938, Cecily Huntley-Morgan, the 23-year-old daughter of a wealthy New York financier, arrives in Nairobi in Kenya to nurse a broken heart after her engagement was abruptly called off. She is staying with her godmother, Kiki Preston, a member of the infamous Happy Valley set, on the shores of beautiful Lake Naivasha, a place that is ‘majestic, terrifying, mysterious… and totally inexplicable’ to Cecily.

As the imminent outbreak of another world war starts to cast its shadow, Cecily soon learns that the wild plains of Africa ‘had nothing on the wildness of its inhabitants’… none more so than Bill Forsythe, a notorious bachelor and cattle farmer with close connections to the proud Maasai tribe.

After a shocking discovery and with war now preventing safe travel, Cecily has few options and makes a life-changing decision. Moving up into the stunning but isolated Wanjohi Valley, she feels terribly alone even though she has the ‘oddest feeling’ that she has found the place that will shape her future.

And when she meets a young woman in the woods, Cecily makes her a promise that will change the course of her life for ever…

Both women in this remarkable new chapter of Riley’s Seven Sisters series spring from the page in vivid and glorious technicolor. From similarly privileged backgrounds but vastly different eras, their stories seem intriguingly disparate until they merge into a glorious fusion of suspense, drama, romance and extraordinary discoveries and dilemmas.

Livewire Electra proves to be one of Riley’s most memorable creations, a complex and compelling young woman with a seductive current of unpredictability and red-hot passion that her name has always promised.

Intellectually gifted but achingly vulnerable, Electra might be one of the most sophisticated and successful women in the world but she still possesses a touching naïveté and deep-seated insecurity which have led her into a fast, frenetic and self-destructive lifestyle.

Beauty and fame have brought Electra wealth and a luxury lifestyle but they have also left her emotionally frail, adrift from her loved ones, unable to trust anyone, and perilously alone.

Seventy years earlier, we find Cecily also struggling to cope with a broken relationship, suffering the same feelings of loneliness and insecurity, frustrated that she cannot ‘do something useful,’ and eager to forge her own destiny. Africa, with its wild beauty and fascinating people, ‘has a heartbeat of its own’ and it is this that she must ‘tap into’ to find out who she really is.

There is an added layer of psychological depth to Electra and Cecily’s tumultuous stories as serious issues, like addiction, abuse, colonialism, racial prejudice, and the plight of those who live on the edge of society, are explored with raw honesty, compassion and insight.

Riley’s extensive research, powerful imagination, and skill as a writer enable her to transport us seamlessly from the streets of modern Manhattan to the majestic mountains and wide-open plains of wartime Kenya.

And it is against these vibrant, colourful and exciting landscapes that the contrasting worlds of two women are portrayed with exquisite precision, each meeting people and travelling to places that will shape the rest of their lives as fate forges a link between them that can never be broken.

With only one more book to go now in the The Seven Sisters series, the anticipation is already mounting… where is the missing sister and what is the simmering mystery behind Pa Salt’s death? The last chapter of this stunning saga can’t come a moment too soon!

(Pan, paperback, £8.99)