Wednesday, 23 February 2011

The Arrow Chest by Robert Parry

GENRE: historical fiction/mystery/supernatural

London, 1876. The painter Amos Roselli is in love with his life-long friend and model, the beautiful Daphne - and she with him - until one day she is discovered by another man, a powerful and wealthy industrialist. What will happen when Daphne realises she has sacrificed her happiness to a loveless marriage? What will happen when the artist realises he has lost his most cherished source of inspiration? And how will they negotiate the ever-increasing frequency of strange and bizarre events that seem to be driving them inexorably towards self-destruction. Here, amid the extravagant Neo-Gothic culture of Victorian England, the iconic poem 'The Lady of Shalott' blends with mysterious and ghostly glimpses of Tudor history.
Romantic, atmospheric and deeply dark.

This novel is a fine example of Victorian Gothic literature and although it was written in the twenty-first century, it feels genuinely Victorian.

The story begins in 1876 London. A set of bones has just been discovered at the Tower of London and Amos Roselli, a painter struggling to receive some acknowledgement, is called to sketch the bones. It is supposed that the bones belong to Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey and Catherine Howard, unfortunate ladies who were buried there and forgotten. While sketching the bones, Amos experiences something supernatural that he cannot quite explain. The Gothic setting is established at the start and the suspense flows until the end of the novel, which makes it a truly gripping read from the start.

Not long after, Amos is commisioned by Oliver Ramsey to paint his portrait and Ramsey is none other that the wealthy, powerful man who married Daphne, Amos's life-long friend, muse and love. For Amos, this is a wonderful opportunity because the commision might help him as an artist and return him into the presence of Daphne. As soon as Amos and Daphne meet again, they renew their deep friendship, but pursue it within the confines of propriety, although it is clear that there is strong affection between them.

Once Daphne is back in Amos's life, strange things begin to happen. He begins to see things, including a woman who looks just like Daphne and who disappears before his eyes. Daphne is very enthusiastic about spiritualism and during a séance, a true ghost appears and speaks directly to Amos, alluding to a promise he supposedly did not keep, which startles everyone present, Amos especially. On top of the strange and eerie supernatural occurrences, Daphne's life begins to fall apart and soon, she finds herself in danger and Amos must try to save her, which is far from easy.

The suspense is amazing in the novel. It builds up gradually and experiences a proper climax, as well as a proper denoument. The setting is genuinely Victorian and quite Gothic. Attention is paid to details and to the language. I truly enjoyed the language of the novel. It was delightfully Victorian and added to the overall authenticity of the novel. It is also very lyrical and when Amos's ideas about paintings were describes, I could truly see what he saw.

The novel is both an entertaining and an intellectual read, and the two are combined very naturally. I love novels that are both entertaining and intellectual. Actual historical characters appear in the novel, for example Lord Tennyson, whose wonderful poem, ''The Lady of Shalott'', plays a role in the novel. There is a strong link to Tudor England, in particular to Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII and Thomas Wyatt, who was rumoured to have an affair with Anne Boleyn. The novel is, in fact, a very fresh and original retelling of the story of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII and Thomas Wyatt, rich with details about art (pre-Raphaelites), yet the reader can still not predict how the story will end. I truly enjoyed the ending. I could not predict it myself and I am always glad when an ending surprises me in a good way.

The supernatural elements are not very obvious and by that I mean they are not obtrusive, but fit the story naturally. They are a bonus that serves the Gothic atmosphere very well. Séances are present in the novel, a form of entertainment very popular with Victorians, and I enjoyed reading about them. I am a skeptic myself, but a séance during which a ghost appeared made the hairs rise on my arms. Perhaps, in regard to this particular séance, the characters recovered from the shock rather quickly and forgot about the event that should have stayed in their minds too fast, but other than that, Amos Roselli was very aware of something strange going on.

The characters are well-developed and multi-dimensional, and one character that I really liked was Amos's maid who was quite educated and was quite realistic. She was a great counterpart to Amos and I must confess that, although I loved the soulful, forbidden relationship between Daphne and Amos, I did lean towards Amos noticing the simple, yet clever girl in his household.

All in all, this is a cleverly written, suspensful novel that will delight readers who love historical fiction and suspense. As I've said, this is both an entertaining and intellectual read and it will definitely give you something.

I read The Arrow Chest by Robert Parry for his book tour with Premier Virtual Author Book Tours. You can see the other tour stops HERE.

I would like to thank Robert Parry for providing me with a copy of his novel for review! I truly enjoyed reading the novel – thank you, Robert. Thank you to Teddy Rose, the organiser, for including me in the tour!

THIS MISS RATES: / (4.5 stars)


Jan von Harz said...

Wow this sounds like a fantastic story, I like the idea of the forbidden love, and the historical aspects of the book too. I also like that there was some supernatural elements, but that they were not obvious or obtrusive. While I rarely read adult fiction anymore, I am quite taken with this and may get it for a change of pace.

Jo K said...

This seems just the right combination of historical and supernatural elements. I like the incorporation of art and the enjoyable language you mention. Great review!

The Insouciant Sophisticate said...

This sounds so good with a lot of elements I like in books. I'm especially interested in the Tudor aspects as that's one of my favorite time periods.

Blodeuedd said...

Great review :) I do love a good mix of things in books, especially when it works wonderfully

Teddy Rose said...

Wow, what a awesome review! This book blew me away as well. I loved the mix of two different times in history, the Gothic, and the supernatural elements. I often find supernatural elements in a book to be forced rather than natural but that is not the case with 'The Arrow Chest'. Your review is bang on. I wish I could write a review half as good as yours.

rubydo said...

I enjoyed your review so much. I have read this book and enjoyed it too. I understand that Queen Victoria arranged to have this renervation carried out at the Tower of London.