The Forgotten Sister by Nicola Cornick

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.

16 thoughts on “The Forgotten Sister by Nicola Cornick

  1. setinthepast says:

    I read a book years ago – I think it was called Kingmaker – about a Welsh shopkeeper called Henry, who married a posh woman called Elizabeth and had a son called Henry, who had 6 wives, with names like Janet Seymour and Anne Cleaver … you get the idea! It’s a very odd way of writing a book. And all the blurb on the back said was that it was a family saga set in the early 20th century!

  2. Lark says:

    That’s the problem I have with some of these dual timeline novels; one story line is always so much stronger and more interesting than the other. It’s too bad the author couldn’t have just told the story of Amy Robsart this time around.

    • Helen says:

      I nearly always prefer one storyline to the other and it’s usually the historical one. I think the Amy Robsart story would have made an interesting novel on its own!

  3. Mareli Thalwitzer says:

    Oh my goodness! This seems wonderful! Will go and have a look.

    I enjoy dual time-lines and yes, I also tend to prefer the one story more than the other. Especially with Lucinda Riley’s Seven Sister series. Some I prefer the present story and some the past one.

    Thanks for sharing this one.

    Elza Reads

    • Helen says:

      I’m glad you like the sound of this book! Although I had a few problems with it, most people seem to have really enjoyed it.

      I love the Seven Sisters books and yes, with those books sometimes I like the present day story more than the historical one.

  4. Calmgrove says:

    If modern-day names align with historical characters there needs to be a strong rationale (even if its operation is irrational) as to why history appears to be repeating itself. I don’t get that impression from your review, and so that would be a ‘no’ from me too. I have to say I’m also uncomfortable with fantasy where from the names it’s obvious to anybody except those in the story that a key character is the reincarnation of Merlin, or Maid Marian, or Odin, or Arthur…

    • Helen says:

      There is a suggestion as to why the fall down the stairs is repeating itself through the generations, but it’s never made clear why the names of the characters align so closely. I found it all very unconvincing, which is a shame as it had the potential to be an interesting book.

  5. GoAnnelies - In Another Era says:

    I can understand that you found it a bit confusing to read the modern timeline with almost the same names, I wouldn’t like that either. And I’m no fan of the whole ‘Amy Robsart’ mystery. I just don’t find the relationship between Elizabeth and Dudley that interesting. I would rather have book focussing on other parts of Elizabeth’s reign, there are so many more interesting things to tell, but books tend to focus on her romance with Dudley.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, the Dudley romance does tend to get too much attention in books about Elizabeth. I found it interesting in this book to read about things from Amy’s point of view rather than Elizabeth or Dudley’s, though.

  6. whatmeread says:

    Isn’t that interesting. I just finished reading Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott, which is also about Amy Robsart, although not very historically accurate. I haven’t reviewed it yet, but I have it on the calendar for the end of the month.

    I find it strange that she wrote a book paralleling the real event with a fictional one, with similar names and so on. That’s a really weird idea. It would make more sense if she wrote one about an ancestor of Amy’s who decided to research Amy’s death or something like that.

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