This is the second book in Dinah Jefferies’ new World War II trilogy which began last year with Daughters of War. Although I think it’s always best to read a series in order if you can, I don’t think it would be a problem if you wanted to start with this book. People and events from the first book are alluded to, but are not essential to understanding the plot of this second novel.
Of the three Baudin sisters we met in Daughters of War, The Hidden Palace only focuses on one of them – the youngest sister, Florence, who has left occupied France for the safety of the English countryside. In England, Florence is reunited with her estranged mother, Claudette, who asks for her help in finding her sister Rosalie – Florence’s aunt – who ran away from home as a teenager and hasn’t been seen or heard from for years. Claudette believes that Rosalie may be in Malta, but with war still raging across Europe, no one is able to go there to look for her.
In an alternating storyline, we go back to the 1920s and follow Rosalie’s adventures when, after an argument with her father, she leaves home and finds work as a dancer in a nightclub in Malta. As the years go by, she builds a new life and identity for herself on the island, which makes Florence’s task much more difficult when, once the war is over, she is able to travel to Malta to begin her search. Accompanied by Jack, the Baudin sisters’ friend who worked for the British Special Operations Executive during the war, Florence is determined to find her aunt – but will her aunt want to be found?
I enjoyed The Hidden Palace overall, although I missed the other two sisters from the first book, Hélène and Élise, who stay behind in France and appear only briefly. Florence was not initially my favourite of the sisters so I wasn’t sure how I would feel about this book focusing mainly on her, but I did warm to her after a while – although I had mixed feelings about the development of her romance with Jack, knowing that he had originally been Hélène’s love interest. I also found the sections of the book set in England slightly lacking in atmosphere; you would hardly think the war was still taking place, as the lives of the characters seem largely unaffected and there’s no sense of any real hardship.
The chapters set in Malta were of much more interest to me, particularly as I have been to Malta and enjoyed revisiting, through Rosalie’s eyes, the vibrant streets of the capital Valletta and the peaceful stillness of Mdina, the ‘Silent City’. Malta was very badly hit during the war, due to its strategic importance as a base in the Mediterranean between Europe and North Africa, and it was the target of thousands of German and Italian air raids, making it one of the most heavily bombed places in the world. This is where Rosalie spends the war years, so as you can imagine, her story is a lot more dramatic than Florence’s in the Devon countryside! However, Rosalie also becomes caught up in a scandal involving human trafficking and I couldn’t see the point in this storyline as it didn’t seem to lead anywhere.
The novel has a satisfactory ending, but not everything is fully resolved, so I’m looking forward to finding out what happens in the final part of the trilogy. The third book, Night Train to Marrakech, is due next year.
Thanks to HarperCollins for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.
This is book 51 read for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2022.