Be prepared to pick up this book and be transported not just to another time and place but another continent as well.
Lucinda Riley is a skilful writer when it comes to the dual narrative, she does it so well, that it seems that the two stories set some hundred years apart in this novel bear no relation to each other. But of course they do as they the story weaves from 1911 to the present, and evokes many emotions through the characters and shows class, tradition, love and war in many forms.
In the present day we meet Rebecca Bradley, an American film actress, who has the world at her feet and has the world press there to watching her every move. She flies to London to take part in a period drama film, and ends up at Astbury Hall, Dartmoor, Devon playing a young girl in the 1920s. It is a far cry from the life she leads and she uses the fact that she can escape into a past life through her character to actually escape from the person she is or is at least becoming. The press cannot reach her there and neither can her famous actor boyfriend. Rebecca has time to breathe freely.
Halfway round the world Ari Malik is struggling to come to terms with his life, he has neglected his personal life for the sake of his business and career. However it is not fulfilling and when the death of his great-grandmother, leaves him a quest he now has the means to escape and discover something about her past and his future. Ari is unsure why him of all her descendants was chosen. Perhaps the journey to Astbury Hall will answer everything?
It is Ari’s great grandmother who we get to know in the past narrative to this story, in fact it is her who tells it to us. Anahita Chaval is nobility in terms of Indian culture, but the death of her father means that she is some what impoverished. We are transported to the heyday of the British Raj, Riley has brought to the page and let it jump out and envelope us; the smells, the sounds, the sights and the warmth of India where we can glimpse a life of Indian Royalty.
It is into royalty that Anahita becomes a companion to Princess Indira, a rather spoilt brat of a girl who sulks until she gets her own way. However, Anahita somehow seems to be the calming influence and they forge a lifelong friendship that takes them through their days in India and also to England when they are both sent to school. Anahita thrives at school, whilst Indira knows her destiny and just treats it all as some social whirl. When they are despatched to Astbury Hall one summer, because war is looming they find their lives change very much.
Astbury Hall is the tie that binds the present day with the past, it is where Ari, Anahita and Rebecca are all drawn to. It does not give up its secrets easily and it is fiercely protected by Mrs Trevathan the housekeeper who only attends to the present day Lord Astbury.
Ari learns the truth about this house and Anahita’s role in it with patience and insight.
Rebecca learns that ghosts can perhaps never be laid to rest and that they manifest themselves in some startling ways.
Anahita learns to love deeply and honestly, without regard for social class, status, money and colour of skin.
As readers we finally learn how all of this comes together, how each part of the story fits with the other parts. There were times when I could predict what was going to happen, but they were few and far between which is why I had to keep on reading. I was saddened that the book had to end at some point as I wanted more, but it was right it did end.
Lucinda Riley has left a legacy with this book. Her passion is in this book, it did not feel like a formulaic novel with a dual narrative. Riley has given us the colours of India, rich, bright and vibrant, to the classic English house and countryside. The difference between cultures just not in the present day; the american actress versus the fading English aristocracy but in the past where; the poor Indian girl versus the rich moneyed American girl. The characters get right under your skin, you care about them, you want to see happiness but you also want justice. Good must overcome prejudice and ultimately over evil actions to.
This is an absorbing read and with nearly 700 pages to get through you will be drawn in. An excellent read.