Diana K Holmes
Book Review: The Secrets of Saffron Hall
Highly recommended — well-written, emotional mystery with interesting historical setting.
After the tragedy of giving birth to a stillborn daughter, Amber retreats to her ancient family home to help her grandfather. Here she discovers a sixteenth-century book of hours written by her ancestor, Eleanor, in which she reads the words: infans filia sub pedibus nostris requiescit (our infant daughter rests under our feet). The book of hours, together with visitations from Eleanor, make Amber determined to discover what it is that Eleanor so desperately wants her to do.
Present day Norfolk, England
Sixteenth-century Norfolk, England
The dual timelines intertwine both thematically (both women have lost their daughters) and geographically (around Saffron Hall and the book of hours) to slowly reveal the events which led to Eleanor writing the message.
This book definitely doesn’t emphasise romance. Here, the romance is more of a domestic nature — a marriage strained by a stillborn birth in the present day and the growth of love in an arranged, sixteenth-century marriage.
Two Best Bits
The Norfolk setting. I lived in Norfolk for the first eighteen years of my life and love reading books set there. It may be flat in places, but it’s mighty!
Marchant’s writing style. She made the world of both timelines come alive with her richly descriptive writing.
If you enjoy your dual timeline stories with a hefty dose of romance, this may not be the book for you. The focus is more on the women and their daily struggles. In the present day Amber is grieving for her daughter. In the past timeline, Eleanor is focused on her work of running a hall and growing saffron.
I found the two central characters a little frustrating. I felt sorry for Amber’s husband as she shuts herself off from him and I was also frustrated that she spent so much time sorting her grandfather’s books rather than reading the book of hours and solving the mystery. But I guess the book would have been a lot shorter if she had! Eleanor’s business-like focus on farming saffron and running the hall made her come across as strong, but also a little hard. Not someone with whom I could empathise.
In summary, I enjoyed Marchant’s style of writing which kept me reading The Secrets of Saffron Hall until late in the night. While I usually prefer the mystery at the centre of dual timeline stories to have higher stakes, the gentle, more domestic focus at the book’s heart will have wide appeal. I’ll definitely read more by Marchant.
Two women. Five centuries apart. One life-changing secret about to be unearthed…
1538 New bride Eleanor impresses her husband by growing saffron, a spice more valuable than gold. His reputation in Henry VIII’s court soars – but fame and fortune come at a price, for the king’s favour will not last forever…
2019 When Amber discovers an ancient book in her grandfather’s home at Saffron Hall, the contents reveal a dark secret from the past. As she investigates, so unravels a forgotten tragic story and a truth that lies much closer to home than she could have imagined…
I can’t find Marchant’s website, but here’s a link to the publisher’s page:
· Publisher: Avon (HarperCollins)
· Language: English
· ISBN-13: 978-0008406271 (paperback)