The Shadow Hour by Kate Riordan

cover.jpg.rendition.460.707Title: The Shadow Hour

Author: Kate Riordan

Publisher: Penguin

Rating: 4/5

I came across this title by chance after seeing a blog post on the Waterstone’s website, in which Kate Riordan discusses gothic literature and how it has influenced her new book, ‘The Shadow Hour’. I am a big fan of gothic titles (Jane Eyre, The Woman in Black and Rebecca are a few of my favourite books) so I was immediately interested in  ‘The Shadow Hour’.

The novel, Riordan’s second, is told predominantly by Grace, a young woman leaving home for the first time to become a governess at the mysterious Fenix House, and later the narrative is split between her grandmother, Harriet’s, tale of her time as a governess in the same house almost fifty years before.

Grace has grown up on tales of Fenix House and it’s occupants from her grandmother. However, the moment she arrives at the overgrown, rusting front gates leading to the dilapidated house, she doubts her grandmothers account for the first time. Her suspicions are confirmed as she meets the family, and is greeted with a very different picture than the one her grandmother had let her to believe.

There are only a few servants, and the family holds many secrets. Grace is well aware of gothic tales such as Jane Eyre and Northanger Abbey, but that’s only fiction, she tells herself. Things like that don’t happen in real life, people don’t keep secret’s like a deranged wife hidden in their attic… or do they?

The more Grace learns, the more confused she becomes. Why would her grandmother lie to her, even about the smaller details, the way her room was, the way she was treated?

The book is spilt into chapters from Grace’s perspective, to Harriet’s time in the house, and it is a brilliantly written gothic tale that I am thrilled to have stumbled upon. Riordan’s writing is spot-on, she is able to describe a scene, the atmosphere, the temperature, the overall feeling perfectly. There is plenty of romance and mystery in this books too, and the tale grows more interesting the further you read. There are characters from Harriet’s time that are still around when Grace arrives at the house, and its intriguing to see how they have been shaped over the years, and how they accept Grace into their family – quite different from Harriet as a governess.

I have read many books, fiction and non-fiction, about the life of the governess, the in-between woman, not quite a servant but not a privileged member of the family. It is lovely to see a new novel dealing with this issue, and with such a great story I really hope this book does well for itself.

Riordan manages to answer most of the questions raised by the last few pages, but I really hope she considers delving back into this tempered in her future work – she did a great job!

‘The Shadow Hour’ is out now, and you can purchase it here.



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