This is the fifth Susanna Kearsley book I’ve read and while I’ve enjoyed them all (I think The Firebird is my favourite) I found this one a bit different from most of the others. Usually Kearsley’s novels include a supernatural element and some form of time-travel, whether it’s via telepathy, reincarnation or being physically transported through time, but this book doesn’t have anything like that, being set almost entirely in the present.
The Splendour Falls is narrated by Emily Braden, who has agreed to join her historian cousin, Harry, on a trip to Chinon in France where he is planning to do some research on the Plantagenets. Knowing Harry’s absent-mindedness and lack of consideration for other people, she is not surprised when she reaches Chinon and discovers that her cousin is nowhere to be seen. As she waits for him to arrive, Emily forms some new friendships among the other guests staying in her hotel and also becomes intrigued by the stories of two Isabelles who lived in Chinon several centuries apart.
The first is the 13th century queen, Isabelle of Angouleme, wife of King John of England, who may have hidden some treasure in the tunnels beneath Chinon while the castle was under siege from John’s enemies. The second Isabelle lived during World War II and is also believed to have hidden a treasure of her own to keep it safe from the Nazis. As Emily begins to grow concerned for her missing cousin she learns more about both Isabelles and their lost treasures. Could they be linked to Harry’s disappearance?
I enjoyed The Splendour Falls but it’s not one of my favourite Kearsley novels as I do prefer the ones with stronger historical elements (I really wanted more information on the two historical Isabelles). This is more of a mystery novel than a historical novel and in this respect it reminds me of Every Secret Thing more than any of her other books. I think one of the things I liked best about this book was the setting. Kearsley’s descriptions of Chinon – the narrow streets and steps, the vineyards, the medieval castle (the Château de Chinon) and the Chapelle Sainte-Radegonde – are all so beautiful. I’ve never been to that part of France but this book had me instantly searching Google for pictures and it does look as lovely as it sounds.
My only problem with The Splendour Falls was trying to keep track of all the characters. A huge number of them were introduced in the first few chapters, including two Canadian brothers, a French vineyard owner, a British musician, a German artist, an American couple and a gypsy. It was completely overwhelming and I felt I didn’t have time to get to know one character before another one appeared! I also found it hard to believe that Emily would instantly become such good friends with a group of random strangers staying in the same hotel.
This book has been reissued by Sourcebooks for the first time this week, but it’s not a new Susanna Kearsley novel. While I was reading I kept thinking that the ‘present day’ setting felt slightly dated – there was a noticeable lack of modern technology which would surely have made Emily’s attempts to contact Harry a lot easier – and the explanation for this is that the book was originally published in 1995. I wouldn’t recommend this as a first introduction to Kearsley’s work, but I think existing fans will probably find a lot to enjoy in The Splendour Falls, as I did.
I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for review