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  • Writer's pictureDiana K Holmes

Book Review: House of Shadows by Nicola Cornick

Highly recommended—Intriguing mystery with evocative settings and two enjoyable romances.

What happens

After a failed relationship and a heart broken by the early death of her parents, Holly relocates to her family’s mill house after her brother goes missing. Here she re-connects with old friends and falls in love as she tries to solve the mystery behind a set of historic objects believing it will lead to her missing brother.

Dual timelines

(i) Present day Oxfordshire, England

(ii) 17th Century The Hague and England

The dual timelines intertwine nicely to reveal the significance of the objects Holly discovers in the present day.


There are two satisfying romances. I particularly liked the two heroes: Mark in the present day “tall, dark and durable looking” and Craven who “did not flatter and fawn” over his Queen. Both men are strong, dependable and cared for their women utterly. Cornick is obviously a master at writing romance.

Two Best Bits

In addition to the two romances, the other highlights had to be, firstly, the English setting. The English countryside in summer was beautifully re-created and I could absolutely picture Holly forging a new life for herself amid the blend of old and new.

The second highlight was the historical strand. I knew nothing about this period of history and Cornick brings it to life with her depiction of Elizabeth, sister to Charles I of England and wife of the King of Bohemia. Her characterisation of Elizabeth is captivating and clearly illustrates the tensions which arose from her being both a woman and a Queen.

Diana’s Thoughts

This is the first book I’ve read by Nicola Cornick and it definitely won’t be the last.

Cornick’s writing powerfully evokes the the seventeenth-century court of Elizabeth, as well as portraying the magic of an English countryside in summer which had this reader sighing with nostalgia. And then there were the romances which were just as important as the mystery. I did feel a little sorry that Holly and Mark’s first encounter ended as it did, but it does allow for the slow burn to continue through the rest of the book.

Holly is a bit ‘fey’ (as Mark put it) and is transported into the past a few times. These timeslip elements add to the sense of connection between the two narratives and enhances the visceral feel of these pivotal scenes. But it doesn't dominate and shouldn’t put off readers who prefer their history without fantastical elements.

Cornick writes beautifully and there are no wasted scenes. Everything either reflects on the characters or refers back to the central mystery, slowly uncovering the puzzle, layer by layer, page by quickly turning page.

In summary, House of Shadows has two satisfying romances with swoonworthy heroes at its core. It also has intriguing settings (especially the historical strand) and a mystery which keeps you turning the pages until the end. I really enjoyed it and will look for more of Cornick’s books, both dual time narrative and historicals.

Highly recommended.

Official Blurb:

London, 1662:

There was something the Winter Queen needed to tell him. She fought for the strength to speak.

'The crystal mirror is a danger. It must be destroyed – '

He replied instantly. 'It will'.

Ashdown, Oxfordshire, present day: Ben Ansell is researching his family tree when he disappears. As his sister Holly begins a desperate search, she finds herself inexplicably drawn to an ornate antique mirror and to the diary of Lavinia, a 19th century courtesan who was living at Ashdown House when it burned to the ground over 200 years ago.

Intrigued, and determined to find out more about the tragedy at Ashdown, Holly's only hope is that uncovering the truth about the past will lead her to Ben.

For fans of Barbara Erskine and Kate Morton comes an unforgettable novel about three women and the power one lie can have over history

· Publisher: Mira, HarperCollins

· Language: English

· ISBN-13: 9781848454163

· Pages: 448

Where to buy

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