Alix Rickloff has written historical and paranormal romances, but Secrets of Nanreath Hall is her first historical novel. It's a disturbing, fascinating story of a mother and daughter. But, it's the daughter's story, the atmospheric depiction of World War II, that brings the story to life.
In alternating chapters, Rickloff tells of Lady Katherine Trenowyth and her daughter, Anna Trenowyth. As a young woman, passionately in love, and wanting to be an artist, Katherine fled from her family estate at Nanreath Hall in Cornwall. Her story is set prior to and during the Great War, but it's Kitty's story up until her death when Anna is young. In contrast, Anna's story is set against World War II, but the war itself is essential to Anna's story. Seventeen years after her mother's death, Anna has survived the collapse of France, and barely survived when the ship she was on was strafed and hit a mine. She's part of the Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment. After her recuperation in the hospital, she's assigned to work in a convalescent home. Anna Trenowyth is sent to Nanreath Hall in Cornwall.
While Katherine's story is one of love and loss, Anna's is the story of the search for a family, a history she never knew. "The Trenowyth family never recovered. Scandal, debt, injuries, death." What part did Katherine play in the rumor that the Trenowyths were cursed? Anna knows nothing about her mother's past, but will discover family members who don't want her and secrets they want hidden.
Katherine and Anna are both strong, interesting women. But, it's the background of Anna's story that is vivid and heart wrenching. Rickloff's account of World War II deals with the role played by all the British. She writes of the suffering of the nurses such as Anna, who dealt with PTSD, who heard the cries of the dying, who lost friends. Nanreath Hall is bombed in the course of the book. She brings the convalescent home, the bombed out London streets, to life. Anna's memories and her reaction to them, are usually not portrayed in books about the war. We read about PTSD in the soldiers. But, we seldom read about the nurses and volunteers who saw so much. In Anna, in her cousin, Hugh, we see the suffering of the survivors.
Secrets of Nanreath Hall is a compelling, atmospheric story. Rickloff vividly portrays the time period in a story that is heart wrenching when describing the war. It was a war that changed British society forever, and it's reflected here. There are complex, flawed characters in this book, fascinating characters. But, for me, the agonizing stories of the survivors, the people fighting their memories, are the pieces of this book that linger.
Alix Rickloff's website is www.AlixRickloff.com
Secrets of Nanreath Hall by Alix Rickloff. William Morrow. 2016. ISBN 9780062433183 (paperback), 400p.
FTC Full Disclosure - I received a copy of the book to participate in the blog tour.