Monday, December 20, 2010

Splendour Falls by Susanna Kearsley

Chinon-chateau of legend, steeped in the history of France and England. It is to Chinon that Emily goes on a long-awaited holiday, to meet her charming but unreliable cousin, Harry. Harry wanted to explore the old town and the castle, where Queen Isabelle, child bride of King John, had withstood the siege of Chinon many centuries ago, and where, according to legend, she hid her casket of jewels. But when Emily arrives at her hotel she finds that Harry has disappeared, and as she tries to find him she becomes involved with some of the other guests and learns of a mystery dating from the German occupation during the Second World War. Another Isabelle, a chambermaid at the hotel, fell in love with a German soldier, with tragic results.

Emily becomes increasingly aware of strange tensions, old enmities and new loves; as she explores the city, with its labyrinthine dungeons and tunnels and its ancient secrets, she comes ever closer to the mystery of what happened to both the Isabelles of Chinon's history.
One of the reasons that I really love Kearsley's books is because she manages to blend the contemporary and the historical in a very natural manner. Sometimes when an author changes back and forth between time periods it can leave the reader feeling confused or overwhelmed with information, but I never feel that way with Kearsley. That's probably a good thing, though, because this book is set in the contemporary world, but it also ties in World War II and the world of Henry II. It sounds really complicated, but I thought she handled it well. I saw a couple other reviews that said it was confusing, though, so I guess it really depends on the person.

The novel is told from Emily's point-of-view. She has traveled to Chinon to meet her cousin Harry, but when she arrives he is no where to be found. Instead she must navigate on her own while she waits for him to appear. She starts associating with the other guests in the hotel right away, though, and it is with these characters that most of her interaction is played out. Is it sad that I was happy she included two brothers from Canada as characters? She pulled them off really well, too. They would get really defensive when people called them Americans and that is very Canadian! I keep hoping that Kearsley will write some books set in Canada, but I suppose I also enjoy her foreign settings.

Anyway, back to the review! This novel is about two Isabelle's from two different time periods. Queen Isabelle offers a bit of mystery to the story, while an Isabelle that was a chambermaid at the hotel that Emily is staying at had a ill-fated romance with a German soldier. When I look back on the book it amazes me how many things were happening all at once, but they all managed to flow together and work seamlessly by the end. Kearsley doesn't forget about her subplots like some authors do. If things are not exactly all tied up in a pretty little bow by the end, there is at least enough of a conclusion of things that you will not be left dangling at the end.

I have an attraction to things set during the World Wars, so I was happy to see how Kearsley managed to write a connection in. I was also happy to see how things played out. It is the stories from the war that always attract me, and this one doesn't disappoint. It is weaved in with the main plot expertly. I also don't really know a lot about Queen Isabelle. I thought the mystery of her hidden treasure really added to the story because ultimately it is what started everything off. She is why Harry was in the area in the first place, so without her Emily would never have came to Chinon and the events never would have played out. And, once again there is some romance thrown in, but there is too much going on to call it just a romance novel.

This is another great book from Susanna Kearsley that I enjoyed reading!


  1. I loved this book, even though it made me cry. Fantastic story, and I adored the setting. I'll definitely get to Chinon sometime!

  2. I love Susanna Kearsley, but have yet to read this one. It is sitting on my shelf so I'll have to make a point of moving it to the top of my to be read pile!