I read a lot of books but I tend not to review them very often. Truthfully, I find it hard for many stories written today to live up to the standards of my old favorites, such as the Dorothy Sayers or Ngaio Marsh novels. It is not very often that I read a debut novel of such eloquent and seemingly effortless style--even as the author combines styles: telling the narrative in the first person, but also giving us snippets of diary entries, and behind it all, a comparison of the protagonists to Homer's Iliad.
In a word, this is utterly brilliant. I love layered storytelling. I love a story that gradually builds, that doles out information in measured amounts, never hitting you over the head with it but assuming you are intelligent and mature enough to wait for the story to unfold in good time. Tasha Alexander pulls you in immediately to the life of Lady Emily, a Victorian woman who married because of the conventions of the day, only to become widowed shortly thereafter. Life as a widow allows her freedoms she did not possess in the unmarried state--and would not have possessed in most marriages, either. She is quietly enjoying her widowhood and in no hurry to re-enter society, content to surround herself with her books and studies. When the story begins, we know as little of her dead husband as she did--but circumstances cause her to start going through her husband's belongings, and gradually, both Lady Emily and the reader fall in love with him. Lady Emily adopts his interests and studies, traveling in her quest to find out more about her husband, and becomes even more independent and unwilling to go back to the conventions that society (and her mother) demand, as her period of mourning is gradually drawing to a close.
I shan't spoil this for you by telling you more. All I can say is that Lady Emily begins to doubt the story she's been told about her husband's death on a safari in Africa, to the point where she thinks he might even still be alive. Author Alexander draws you into this story masterfully, in such a manner that you feel everything Lady Emily herself is experiencing, and you are holding your breath as you race through the final scenes. I was not only delighted with this story, I was ecstatic to discover there are more in the series.
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