The following book review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.
Secrets Of Nanreath is the debut historical novel by Alix Rickloff. This intriguing mystery involves family secrets revolving around the triumphant and tragic lives of a mother and daughter as they search for their identities. Within the backdrop of both World Wars readers will understand the time period and how the wars affected the British population and the class system.
This mother/daughter story is told in alternating chapters. Rickloff shows how one generation’s actions and decisions will affect the other. The mother Katherine, who lives during World War I, leaves her family behind while her daughter Anna, during the Second World War, attempts to return to the family. Lady Katherine Trenowyth grows up with all of the privileges of being the daughter of an Earl. She meets an artist’s assistant, Simon Halliday, who encourages her to follow her dreams of becoming an artist and living with him, the man she loves. With his support she runs away from all she knows. But everything begins to fall apart, and Katherine finds herself destitute and alone. Her daughter Anna, only six, when Katherine dies, is assigned to the military hospital that has set up camp inside her biological mother’s childhood home, Nanreath Hall. As Anna is drawn into her newfound family’s lives and their tangled loyalties, she must decide if the secrets of the past are too dangerous to unearth, and if the family she’s discovered is one she can be a part of.
Rickloff was inspired to write this story by watching the Downtown Abby TV series. “I was looking at the three children that included the fatherless heir who had an over protective mother and the daughter of a scandalous elopement. They intrigued me, especially since they would come of age during the World War. As I started to do the research it became apparent those in Britain would do whatever they could to help the war effort. There was no disconnect between the military and the civilian population.”
Readers will be reminded of the horrors of each World War. Two quotes hammer the point home. Simon on leave from fighting in WWI was described, “I felt his tremors quick and sharp, his breathing labored and rasping hot against my shoulder. Panicked like a wild thing caught and frozen by the hunter’s lamp.” Or Anna’s description of those who fought in WWII, “The men come in caked head to foot in filth. Some are terrified or weeping for their mothers. Others are deathly quiet.” The author reflects not only about the battle worn soldier, but the English civilian population who had to endure as part of their daily routine the German blitz of bombs.
Rickloff noted to blackfive.net, “The everyday German bombings became a normal fragment of life. The population just adjusted. In my research I saw pictures of stores half blown up and said ‘still open.’ I find this fascinating.”
Through Katherine’s bucking of societal norms readers get a glimpse of the difference between the classes. This pampered Earl’s daughter wants to follow her own choices, choosing a daring and uncertain future of becoming an artist, and to marry someone of her choice.
The symbolism of the dual portraits of her shows both of her sides. In the one commissioned by her family she is Lady Katherine, appearing to have turned away from the confining expectations, while the one painted by her lover Simon, shows her wild and independent side.
Katherine’s feelings are expressed in this quote, “I didn’t want to be Lady Katherine, whose fear held her captive. I wanted to be plain Kitty Trenowyth with the courage to fly.” When asked, Rickloff commented, “I do not think of her as rebellious. She did not start out thinking, ‘I am going to turn my life inside out.’ Yet, she wanted to be her own person, not stuffed into a box by circumstance or birth. She wanted to find her own path and did not want to be confined to what everyone expected of her.”
Rickloff gave readers a heads up about her next book, “In essence, it’s sort of a buddy road-trip book set against the backdrop of the WWII British home front. I had a blast writing both Lucy, a socialite, and her twelve year old delinquent sidekick in crime, Bill.”
Turning to writing historical novels, Rickloff allows her characters to face events in the shadow of the World Wars. Secrets Of Nanreath is an enthralling mystery involving family, lies, forgiveness, and loyalty. There is also the added bonus of learning a little about the time periods where readers are able to compare and contrast the events surrounding each World War.