Review: Kate Riordan - The Shadow Hour

*Thanks to Francesca Russell at Penguin Random House for sending me a proof copy of this book in exchange for a review!*

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Harriet Jenner is just twenty-one when she walks through the gates of Fenix House. Reeling from a personal tragedy, she doesn't expect her new life as a governess to be easy. But she certainly does not foresee the spell Fenix House will cast.

Almost fifty years later, Harriet's granddaughter Grace follows in her footsteps. For Grace, raised on Harriet's spellbinding stories, Fenix House is a fairy tale; a magical place suspended in time.

But the now-faded grandeur of the mansion soon begins to reveal the holes in Harriet's story and Grace finds herself in a place of secrets and shadows. For Fenix House hides truths about her family, and everything that she once knew is about to change...

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The plot of this novel instantly appealed to me - I'm a sucker for a crumbling ancestral home full of secrets. The governess theme invariably draws comparisons with Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre - a novel which is actually referenced a number of times throughout the course of the book - but Fenix House hides far more than a mad wife in the attic.

Dual narrative plots don't always work for me, but this one drew me right in and it's tricky to say whose narrative I preferred - just as I was getting into Grace's story it would switch to Harriet's. The first and third person narrations make it easy to determine whose story we are in, and looking back on it there are so many subtle hints interwoven in the plot that come into play in the final chapters. The whole thing is very cleverly plotted and put together. The novel progresses slowly as we are essentially drip-fed information and begin to piece together what's happened - then all of a sudden it picks up the pace to the point where I couldn't put it down! Thanks to the dual narrative we are a few steps ahead of Grace in figuring out what happened to Harriet, and I had a couple of theories as to how both narratives might end - neither of which were accurate.

Kate's writing style and attention to detail made for an absorbing and atmospheric read. I found I could easily picture the house and grounds as if I were looking at photographs of it! By the end I was sad to leave Fenix House (a character in itself) and its inhabitants, and although all of the loose ends of the past were neatly tied up, I was left with questions as to the future of all of the characters - particularly Grace, David and Agnes (as it seemed that the family were on the brink of discovering her secret). My favourite character though has to be dear Bertie, who never had anything but the best of intentions in everything he did - oddly enough both the younger and older incarnations of his character reminded me of an eager puppy/dog.

5/5 stars: I've not read any of Kate Riordan's previous work, but I enjoyed this one so much that I have already started reading her previous novel The Girl in the Photograph, and am loving that so far too.


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