This is a beautifully written work of historical fiction, set in 1840s New York. It focuses on a young Connecticut woman, Miranda Wells, who sees a change in her station in life through a chance invitation by a wealthy distant cousin. Handsome, gallant, and a renaissance man in terms of his interests, Nicholas Van Ryn invites his young cousin to visit and stay at his lavish home in upstate Hudson, New York and act as a companion for his young daughter.
When she meets him for the first time, Miranda is smitten, as Nicholas is the embodiment of all her romantic yearnings. Moreover, her stay at his luxurious, palatial home on the Hudson River, a mansion with the fanciful name of Dragonwyck, is an answer to her prayers and a chance to escape the hard work and tedium that has been her lot on her family's Connecticut farm. Dragonwyck, however, has its share of secrets and a miasma of evil that lurks in its halls and grand rooms.
The only thorn in Miranda's side is her cousin's wife, Johanna, who does not care for having a younger, more attractive woman, bustling about the house and preening before her husband. Johanna finds ways to make her feelings understood by Miranda, but Miranda, reckless in her admiration for her cousin Nicholas and relatively naive, is somewhat obtuse. Moreover, there is a pre-existing undercurrent of tension between husband and wife in the Dragonwyck household of which Miranda is seemingly oblivious.
Miranda's presence exacerbates the tension in the household that, ultimately, ends in tragedy for all concerned. It is that tragedy that will, for Miranda, mark the beginning of a life journey that will provide some painful and unsettling lessons. It is a journey that will ensure a measure of painful self-discovery and remove the rose colored glasses through which she had viewed her world.
The book is well researched and redolent with information about the Dutch influence in New York and its aristocracy. It details many of the issues and traditions that were germane to the period and is richly descriptive of a way of life in New York, both downstate and upstate, that has since gone by the wayside. It intertwines a number of historical events and personages with the lives of those characters who are at the heart of this wonderful and vastly entertaining book. It is a book that will keep the reader turning the pages until the very last.