And so begins a story that is full of things I love: an old house in Cornwall, Blackhurst Manor, full of family secrets going back to Victorian and Edwardian times; a family mystery and a literary mystery; an appearance by Frances Hodgson Burnett; old tales of Cornish smugglers and cursed ships; and there’s even the inclusion of some of Eliza Makepeace’s (the mysterious Authoress) fairy tales in the book. In addition to all this, the book itself is absolutely beautiful: look at this picture Chelle took of the inside cover.
This is a story with many characters living in different time periods, and it’s told in the third person. And then, like I said, there are letters, journals, bits of books, etc. Which leads me to another problem: all these voices sounded exactly alike. The writing style was always the same, no matter if we were reading a letter, an excerpt from an academic text, a fairy tale, or a piece of the story proper. So I couldn’t bring myself to fully believe those voices from the past.
On top of everything, I had a lot of trouble connecting with the characters. Most of the time they just irritated me. There’s a romance involving Cassandra, the modern day character, and scenes that are meant to be touching had me rolling my eyes. And as for her grandmother, Nell—this probably sounds horribly unsympathetic of me, but I just couldn’t understand why being told she was adopted ruined her life. Don’t worry, this is not a spoiler; it happens in the first ten pages of the book or so. She is 21 when her father tells her the truth, and from then on she completely withdraws from the family who raised and loved her for seventeen years, all because they’re not her “real” family. I know that adopted kids sometimes have trouble adjusting to the truth, especially if it was hidden from them for so long. But to be so bitter about it for the rest of her life (and she lived a long life) just seemed so melodramatic to me.
The whole book was a huge dramafest, and I’ll be the first to admit that dramafests can be kind of awesome—especially if old Victorian skeletons in the closet are involved. And sometimes it was awesome. But most of the time it was just too much. Also, the solution to mystery is obvious to readers because we are watching events unfold in the present and in the past. So the false clues Cassandra follows are, to us, obviously false, except she can’t possibly know. And okay, it’s not really her fault—but, to me at least, watching characters take forever to figure out what the reader knows all along is just annoying.
Having said that, I did read all 659 pages of it, and it didn’t even take me long. Considering how much I disliked the writing, that’s saying a lot. To be honest, towards the end I must have been getting used to it, because it didn’t bother me as much anymore.