Thursday, May 15, 2014
The Splendour Falls
By Susanna Kearsley
Sourcebooks Landmark, January 2014
About the Book
An ancient castle, a tragic love, and a web of secrets begins to unravel . . .
Emily Braden has stopped believing in fairy tales and happy endings. When her fascinating but unreliable cousin Harry invites her on a holiday to explore the legendary own of Chinon, and promptly disappears—well, that’s Harry for you.
As Emily makes the acquaintance of Chinon and its people, she begins to uncover dark secrets beneath the charm. Legend has it that during a thirteenth-century siege of the castle that looms over the city, Queen Isabelle, child bride of King John, hid a “treasure of great price.” And in the last days of the German occupation during World War II, another Isabelle lived in Chinon, a girl whose love for an enemy soldier went tragically awry.
As the dangers of the past become disastrously real, Emily is drawn ever more deeply into a labyrinth of mystery as twisted as the streets and tunnels of the ancient town itself.
Kearsley’s The Splendour Falls is centered around the medieval castle of Chinon in France, the site where King John of England rescued his queen, Isabella of Angouleme, from rebels who were keeping the castle under siege in 1203. Although the book opens with a prologue about John and Isabella, that history has little to do with Kearsley’s tale, except that both stories are staged around the 11th century chateau (castle).
Those familiar with Kearsley’s books will immediately recognize this as an earlier work by the author. It lacks the intricate plots that seamlessly combine the past and the present, an aspect that Kearsley has since become known for. Using the historic town only for its backdrop and legends, Kearsley’s modern day heroine Emily is thrown into a web of murder, greed, and family secrets.
Even though the descriptions of Chinon are exquisite, it’s easy to feel that this is simply a modern day thriller that could have been set anywhere—the minor part the history plays in the narrative is a bit disappointing for ardent Kearsley fans like myself. You still see glimpses of the author’s supernatural touch, but in the end, the story is a straight murder mystery.
This plot is intricate—almost too complicated at times with many needless characters, in my opinion—but it lacks the historical punch that Kearsley’s more recent works attain. All in all, I thought this was a great thriller—all the twists and turns will leave you dizzy—but nothing compared to what Kearsley achieves in her later works.
Rebecca Henderson Palmer