Review: The Wardrobe Mistress by Natalie Meg Evans

*Thanks to Bookbridgr and Quercus for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for a review!*

 London 1945. A young war widow steps aboard a train in search of a new life. Clutching the key to a mysterious inheritance, Vanessa Kingcourt can no longer resist the pull of the old Farren Theatre - an enchanted place seeped in memories of her actor father.

Now owned by troubled former captain Alistair Redenhall, The Farren is in need of a Wardrobe Mistress and a new lease of life. With no experience and no budget for supplies, Vanessa must use her intuition to create beautiful costumes from whatever scraps of silk and thread survived the blitz. It's a seemingly impossible task, but a welcome distraction as she struggles to resist her blossoming feelings for Alistair.

What Vanessa discovers could unravel family secrets sewn deep into the very fabric of the London theatre scene . . . but will she repeat the same terrible mistakes her father made? And can she dare to love a man who will never be hers?

I love historical fiction, and I love theatre (I actually work part time in one), so I was always going to love this book. They're something so enticing and mysterious about the theatrical world, and the 1940s setting only adds to the mystique as the theatre and its staff, are tasked with the road to recovery from the Second World War. The Farren theatre is a character in itself, with its dodgy lift, creaky corridors and supposedly haunted auditorium. I always find backstage fascinating, and the details of what goes on behind the scenes and during rehearsals really brought the theatre to life. The cast and crew of a production work so closely together that they become like family, a close knit team of characters striving to pull off the performance of the decade. Some I liked, others not so much, but they all had their part to play both on and off stage. One character that certainly deserves a mention is Macduff who is just wonderful. I'll say no more so as not to spoil the surprise but he stole every scene he was in, and brought out a different side to Alistair.

As for Commander Alistair Redenhall. What can I say? The man is honour and propriety personified. Once a respected naval commander he runs a tight ship at The Farren, and cuts a real Captain Von Trapp esque figure (minus the band of children). He's tormented by his past, and to a degree his present too. As his initial distrust of Vanessa slowly (and reluctantly) blossoms into an entirely different sentiment I became as frustrated with him as she was at his refusal to acknowledge his feelings. The two have chemistry from their very first meeting, you get the feeling that they were fated to meet, and I hoped against hope that their story would have a happy ending.

But this is more than just a love story. At the centre of the novel lies a mystery, the secret of who Vanessa Kingcourt really is. The ornament around her neck is literally the key to unlocking her past and future, and we are kept guessing until the final chapters about just what the big secret is. I guessed one of the twists relatively early on, but that doesn't make the reveal any less dramatic.

The Wardrobe Mistress is easily one of my favourite reads of 2017. It is an immersive story set in the shadowy world of post-war London and I didn't want it to end. I'll certainly be on the lookout for more novels by Natalie Meg Evans.


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