The Forgotten Sister is the fourth book I’ve read by Nicola Cornick and, like the others (The Phantom Tree, House of Shadows and The Woman in the Lake), it is a dual time period novel with hints of the supernatural.
In the modern day, we meet Lizzie Kingdom, a television presenter and former child star. Having grown up in the public eye, Lizzie has always known how to manage her image and avoid bad publicity, but all of that is about to change with the death of Amelia Robsart. Amelia is the wife of Lizzie’s best friend, Dudley Lester, an ex-boyband member, and when she is found dead at the bottom of the stairs, Lizzie is drawn into the scandal that follows.
If you know your Elizabethan history, you may have already seen parallels here, so it’s no surprise that the historical thread of the novel is set in the 16th century and tells the story of Amy Robsart, trapped in an unhappy and loveless marriage to the courtier Robert Dudley. Everyone knows that the woman Robert really loves is Elizabeth I and he spends more and more of his time at court while Amy stays hidden away in the countryside. History tells us that in September 1560, Amy will be found dead, believed to have broken her neck falling down the stairs. Rumours immediately begin to circulate because, of course, Amy’s death leaves Robert free to marry the queen.
The fate of Amy Robsart remains an unsolved mystery to this day. Was her husband responsible for her death? Was it an accident? Was it suicide? Whatever the answer, we know that Robert Dudley never did marry Elizabeth I. As soon as those rumours began to spread, it became important for her to distance herself from them – which is exactly what Lizzie Kingdom does in the present day timeline of the novel when people begin to wonder whether she and Dudley Lester had something to do with Amelia’s death.
Whenever I read a book set in two time periods, I usually find that one of them appeals to me more than the other. With this book, it was the storyline set in the past. I enjoyed reading about Amy Robsart; I had a lot of sympathy for her as she gradually loses her youthful enthusiasm for life and her hopes for a loving, affectionate marriage and becomes aware that her husband wants very little to do with her. The mystery of Amy’s death is handled in an interesting way and if Nicola Cornick had just concentrated on telling this story and not the one set in the modern day, I would probably have been able to give this book a much more positive review.
Unfortunately, I didn’t like the present day story at all. The characters didn’t quite feel real to me and I think a large part of that was due to their names and relationships seeming so contrived and unnatural. Not only do we have Lizzie Kingdom (corresponding to Elizabeth I), Amelia Robsart (Amy Robsart) and Dudley Lester (Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester), almost all of the other characters have similar names to their historical counterparts too. When even the Elizabethan noblewoman Lettice Knollys appeared in modern form as Letty Knollys, the wife of one of Dudley Lester’s bandmates, I started to find it all very distracting and I think the whole thing would have worked better for me if the parallels between past and present had been more subtle.
After finishing the book I looked to see what other people thought of it and it seems that most people have loved it, so I think this was probably just a case of book and reader not being right for each other! I enjoyed all of the other Nicola Cornick novels I’ve read, particularly The Phantom Tree, so I will continue to look out for more of her books in the future.
Thanks to HQ for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.