The Missing Sister by Lucinda Riley

The Missing Sister is the seventh book in the Seven Sisters series inspired by the mythology surrounding the star cluster known as the Pleiades or ‘the seven sisters’. Looking at other reviews of this book, it seems that a lot of people were expecting this to be the final book in the series and were disappointed to find that it’s not; it didn’t bother me as I’d seen Lucinda Riley’s announcement on Twitter regarding an eighth book, but if you weren’t already aware, it’s probably best to know before you start that you will need to wait another year for all of the series’ mysteries to finally be resolved.

The first six Seven Sisters novels each tell the story of one of the adopted daughters of a mysterious billionaire known as Pa Salt who dies at the beginning of the series, leaving the sisters some clues to help them trace their biological parents. The girls all grew up together at Atlantis, Pa Salt’s estate by Lake Geneva in Switzerland, but they were born in different countries and come from a diverse range of cultures and backgrounds. They are each named after one of the stars in the cluster – Maia, Alycone (Ally), Asterope (Star), Celaeno (CeCe), Taygete (Tiggy) and Electra D’Aplièse. There should have been a seventh sister, whose name would have been Merope, but only six girls were actually brought home to Atlantis by Pa Salt.

In this seventh volume, the D’Aplièse sisters have decided to find Merope and invite her to join them to mark the anniversary of Pa Salt’s death. However, the only clue they have to her identity is a picture of a star-shaped emerald ring. Their search will lead them first to a vineyard in New Zealand and then right across the world to a farmhouse in West Cork, Ireland, but I can’t really say too much about who and what they discover, as to do so would risk spoiling the story and I would prefer to allow other readers to enjoy the hunt for the missing sister without knowing too much in advance.

Although I think the previous six books could probably be read in any order, I would recommend saving this one until you’ve read the others and are already familiar with the D’Aplièse sisters and their stories. All six of them have important parts to play in this book and while some of the methods they use in trying to track down Merope are a bit far-fetched and not always very kind, it was nice to see all of the sisters getting involved (with some help from other characters from earlier in the series – I particularly enjoyed meeting Star’s eccentric friend Orlando again).

The search for Merope is set in the modern day, but as some possible clues to her identity and background emerge, we also spend some time in the past, particularly in Ireland in 1920 where we follow the story of Nuala Murphy, a young woman who has joined her country’s struggle for independence. I found the historical sections of the book fascinating and completely gripping, as well as educational. For example, I knew nothing about the work of Cumann na mBan, the Irish republican women’s association who played a part in the rebellion and the subsequent civil war of 1922. It isn’t clear at first how Nuala’s story will be connected to Merope’s, but things do start to come together later in the book.

As for the overall story arc of the seven sisters, this book has left me with more questions than I started with! I’ve been forming a few theories of my own, but will have to wait for the publication of Atlas: The Story of Pa Salt for everything to be revealed.

Thanks to Macmillan for providing a copy of this book for review

Book 26/50 read for the 2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

Edited 11th June 2021: I was so sorry to hear the sad news today that Lucinda Riley has died after a four-year battle with cancer. Maybe we will never get to know Pa Salt’s secrets now, but Lucinda has left a wonderful legacy of work behind for her fans to treasure and new readers to discover.

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

The Luminaries This is the novel that won the Booker Prize in 2013 but despite the hype surrounding it at the time and the fact that it did sound like a book I would enjoy, I have been putting off reading it, mainly because of its length. As well as the Booker Prize, though, it was also nominated for the Walter Scott Prize in 2014 and as I’m slowly working through the shortlists for that particular prize, I decided it was time I read it.

The Luminaries is set in the New Zealand town of Hokitika during the Gold Rush of the 1860s. The story revolves around several strange occurrences which all take place on the same night in January 1866: Emery Staines, one of the town’s richest men disappears without trace; prostitute Anna Wetherell collapses in the street in what is thought to be a suicide attempt; and the reclusive Crosbie Wells is found dead in his own home, surrounded by a large quantity of hidden gold. These things may not seem to be connected at first, but of course they are – as is everything else that happens throughout the 800 pages of this very clever and complex novel.

The first and by far the longest section of the book begins with the arrival of Scottish lawyer, Walter Moody, who is hoping to make his fortune on the goldfields. On his first evening in Hokitika he walks into the Crown Hotel to find that he has interrupted a meeting between twelve men who have gathered to try to make sense of what has been happening. These twelve men are all linked in some way with Emery, Anna, Crosbie or all three – and as Walter listens to their stories he too is drawn into the mystery.

In the sections of the novel that follow – each one half the length of the one before – we move forwards and then backwards in time learning more about each of the main characters and the events leading up to the night of 14th January 1866.

The decreasing length of the chapters corresponds with a waning moon (hinted at by the images on the front cover), one of many astrological elements Eleanor Catton has incorporated into the novel. The character list at the front of the book lists the twelve men who meet in the hotel under the heading ‘Stellar’ and each one is associated with a sign of the Zodiac, while the other characters are listed as ‘Planetary’. Each of the twelve sections of the book begins with an astrological chart and within each section the individual chapters have astrological titles. This was intriguing at first but as I don’t have a lot of interest in astrology it didn’t mean much to me and I quickly gave up trying to interpret it and concentrated on following the story instead.

I have seen lots of comparisons between The Luminaries and the Victorian sensation novels of Wilkie Collins, one of my favourite authors, but I’m not sure if I really agree with that comparison. The book does include lots of elements of the sensation novel (hidden treasure, opium addiction, double identities, séances, forgeries and family secrets) but Eleanor Catton’s writing, in my opinion, lacks the flair and humour of Wilkie Collins’ and the gift for creating strong, unforgettable characters. Apart from one or two, the twelve men of the Crown felt interchangeable and I had to keep looking back at the character list to remind myself which was which. The other eight were slightly stronger (they were the Planetary characters and the ones who tended to drive the story forward) but of these, Anna Wetherell was the only one I really came to care about.

I did enjoy reading The Luminaries, though, and can definitely see why it has been so successful. I was very impressed by the intricate plotting with facts and secrets being slowly unveiled and connections between the characters gradually revealed. I also loved the setting; I have read very few novels set in New Zealand and I certainly haven’t read any set in a New Zealand gold mining town in the 1860s! Because Hokitika is a real place, I could find lots of pictures online which really helped to bring the setting to life. The length of the book wasn’t a problem for me either; the pages seemed to go by much more quickly than I’d expected them to – especially in the second half, where the chapters become shorter and the pace becomes faster.

I know there were a lot of things happening in The Luminaries that I didn’t completely understand (especially all of the allusions to astrology) and lots of little details that I missed. I would probably have to read the book again to be able to fully appreciate it, but for now I’m happy just to have read it once and to have enjoyed it!