The Phantom Tree by Nicola Cornick

the-phantom-treeI have always found the concept of time-travel fascinating – and equally fascinating are the number of ways in which various authors choose to approach the subject when writing time-travel fiction.  The Phantom Tree is one of many dual time period time-slip novels I have read over the last few years, but I found it refreshingly different in that it deals not with the usual idea of a modern day character going back in time but a woman from the past coming forward to the present time.

The name of our time traveller is Alison Bannister (or Banastre, as she was known in her previous life) and she has been trapped in the 21st century for ten years, unable to find a way to get back.  We first meet Alison walking through the streets of Marlborough one day just before Christmas.  Stopping to look through the window of an art gallery, she is surprised to see a painting of a woman she once knew.  Investigating further, she learns that this is apparently a newly discovered portrait of Anne Boleyn – but she’s sure it isn’t; it’s Mary Seymour, who lived with Alison at Wolf Hall in the 1500s.  To complicate things further, the historian hoping to build his career around the discovery of Anne Boleyn’s portrait is Adam Hewer, Alison’s ex-boyfriend.  Without telling him the truth about her journey through time, how can she convince him that he’s wrong?   

The historical sections of the novel are written mainly from Mary Seymour’s perspective.  Unlike Alison, who is fictional, Mary is a real historical figure – but one whose story has been lost in the mists of time.  Mary is the daughter of Henry VIII’s sixth wife, Katherine Parr, and Thomas Seymour, whom Katherine married following Henry’s death.  Katherine dies shortly after giving birth and Thomas is executed a year later, leaving Mary an orphan in the care of the Duchess of Suffolk.  Mary disappears from historical records in 1550, but Nicola Cornick suggests that she was sent to live with her Seymour cousins at Wolf Hall.  This allows plenty of scope to create a storyline for Mary which is both imaginary and historically plausible.         

Of the two time periods, I found the sections set in the past more interesting – in particular, I enjoyed the supernatural elements of Mary’s story.  Almost from the moment she arrives at Wolf Hall rumours begin to circulate that she is a witch, especially after she has a vision which seems to come true.  She also has a telepathic connection with a secret friend called Darrell and this reminded me instantly of Mary Stewart’s Touch Not the Cat, (which may have been intentional, as Darrell’s nickname for Mary is ‘Cat’). 

The present day story was enjoyable too, though.  I couldn’t help thinking that Alison had adapted remarkably quickly to modern life, which wasn’t at all convincing, but otherwise I was kept entertained by her attempts to find a gateway back to her own time and to decipher a set of clues sent by Mary through the centuries.   

The Phantom Tree does require disbelief to be suspended on many occasions, which I know is not something that appeals to all readers, but I think anyone who likes reading time-slip novels by authors like Susanna Kearsley or Barbara Erskine should find plenty to enjoy here.  I will now be looking out for Nicola Cornick’s previous book, House of Shadows!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley for review.


16 thoughts on “The Phantom Tree by Nicola Cornick

  1. FictionFan says:

    Hmm… I’m not very good at suspending disbelief so I might struggle with this, but the aspect relating to the past and Mary Seymour is certainly intriguing. On the whole I prefer straight historical novels to time-slip versions though.

    • Helen says:

      I prefer straight historical novels too, but I do like reading time-slip novels now and then as well. I enjoyed this one mainly because of the Mary Seymour aspect. It would be interesting to know what happened to her in real life!

    • Helen says:

      It is quite unusual to have a character travel forward instead of back, and I would have liked that part of Alison’s story to have been explored in more depth. She seemed to adapt far too quickly! Other than that, I really enjoyed this book.

    • Helen says:

      I’ve always loved the idea of time travel, but I can understand why it doesn’t appeal to everyone. I enjoyed The Rose Garden, though it isn’t my favourite Kearsley novel – that would probably be Mariana.

  2. buriedinprint says:

    It’s interesting to think of which direction the time travel occurs; it does seem less common to have a protagonist from the past enter the future. I used to love time-slip novels and still do read them sometimes, but I should probably look for more. Most recently I read the Stephen King alternate history novel, which was quite entertaining too.

    • Helen says:

      I haven’t read anything by Stephen King for years, but that one does sound entertaining so I might try it at some point. I love the concept of time travel and it made a nice change to have the protagonist of The Phantom Tree coming forward to the future instead of back to the past.

  3. whatmeread says:

    I’m certainly not a fan of Kearsley. You made this sound interesting but it’s hard for me to tell whether I would like it. I like time travel novels sometimes but not always.

  4. Margaret @ BooksPlease says:

    I enjoyed this book too and I’m not often very good at suspending my disbelief. I wasn’t convinced about the way Alison adapted to modern life either. I hope you like House of Shadows too – I did and think it’s better than The Phantom Tree.

    • Helen says:

      I enjoyed Alison’s storyline but thought there were some missed opportunities regarding her transition from past to present. I’m pleased to hear you think House of Shadows is even better than this one!

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