14 March 2017

Review: The Second Bride by Katharine Swartz

An Intriguing Premise ...

The Second Bride is an intriguing dual-timeline story set in the wild north of England. The present-day plot centres around Ellen, a freelance proofreader married to Alex. It’s the second marriage for both of them—they each have a teenage girl from their respective first marriages, and they also have ten-year-old Sophie.

It’s a peaceful life, until Alex’s ex calls with the news that she’s leaving the country for a year and their sixteen-year-old daughter will have to come and live with them. This well and truly messes up the family dynamics as Ellen finds herself cast in the unwanted role of the wicked stepmother, and resenting the fact Alex leaves the parenting of Annabelle up to her. Ellen finds an old death certificate hidden in the boards of the spare bedroom … and that’s the link to the past storyline.

The death certificate is for Sarah Mills, who died in 1872 at the age of twenty-two, of ‘General Debility’. That provides instant conflict and suspense for the past story, which starts in 1868 as eighteen-year-old Sarah Telford and her ten-year-old sister are leaving their home town of Goswell for Kendal, to live with their aunt, their only surviving relative. Sarah’s story is revealed in the past as Ellen searches for it in the present, at the same time as trying to hold her family together.

I have to say that I found Sarah’s story a lot more engaging. Ellen’s problems were real, to be sure, and—like Sarah—she didn’t necessarily have a lot of control over what happened to her. That frustrated me as I like to see characters triumph over their circumstances, and that never quite happened for Ellen.

It didn’t happen for Sarah, either, but we knew from the first page that she was going to die young, so her story was tinged with that sadness. Also, Sarah’s misfortune wasn’t the result of her own bad choices—it was more the result of bad luck and circumstances she couldn’t see any other way out of. And that engaged me more than Ellen, especially when I compared Sarah’s self-sacrificing attitude with Ellen’s simmering resentment of Annabelle and her effect on their once-happy family.

So the present story was good, but the past story was better. The writing was solid but not spectacular, but there was plenty of conflict and it certainly kept me reading. The Second Bride is part of the Tales from Goswell series, but can easily be read as a standalone novel. I didn’t even realise it was part of a series at first, and don’t feel I missed anything.

Recommended for those who like British fiction.

Thanks to Lion Fiction and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can click here to find out more about Katharine Swartz, and you can read the introduction to The Second Bride below:

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