Today, I am reviewing The Crystal Cage, a historical romance by Merryn Allingham. You’ll find this review and a *giveaway* link, below the synopsis. On the post today you’ll also find two extracts from her novel, one from the modern day setting and then under the author bio, the Victorian era excerpt. Reading both will give you an idea of what you might expect from this lovely book. And isn’t this a beautiful cover!!??
The Crystal Cage, Synopsis~
by Merryn Allingham
Publication Date: August 4, 2014
eBook; ASIN: B00JTPU72S
Genre: Historical Romance
Appearances don’t always reveal the truth. Grace Latimer knows this better than most. Illusions of commitment and comfort have her trapped—until bohemian adventurer Nick Heysham charms his way into her world. Commissioned to recover a Great Exhibition architect’s missing designs, he persuades her to assist in his research. The mystery of the Crystal Palace seduces Grace, and once she discovers clues about a forbidden Victorian love affair, she’s lured into the deep secrets of the past…secrets that resemble her own.
As Grace and Nick dig into the elusive architect’s illicit, long-untold story, the ghosts of guilt and forbidden passion slip free. And history is bound to repeat itself, unless Grace finds the courage to break free and find a new definition of love…
I absolutely loved this book! I love historical romances in which either the characters time travel, or the book time travels. The Crystal Cage juxtaposes between modern and the Victorian Era. The author does this very well, leaving me grappling to go forth between the times to discover the mysteries presented. As historical fiction is my favorite genre, I also enjoyed the historical details that she weaved throughout the story in the past and how much research she put into mid-1800s Victorian London, during the time of The Great Exhibition, which is sometimes referred to as The Crystal Palace Exhibition (hence the book title, I think).
This was totally enthralling for me, as I have a real obsession with anything World’s Fair circa 19th or early 20th century! The Great Exhibition was an international exhibition that was held inside a great pavilion in London in 1851. It was first in a series of World’s Fairs, organized in part by Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria, monarch of England at the time.
Grace, the women serving as sleuth in the modern day, taking on the mystery of a past 150 years before her, is a well-developed character. I admire her talent and motivation and feel connected to her due to her relationship issues with Nick, and even within herself. She’s had to put up a wall around herself, and I relished in watching her unfurl out of her shell.
After Nick asks her to help him work through the mystery of some missing historical pieces, she is intrigued by Lucas Royde, an architect of the past who designed the Pavilion at the Exhibition, and Alessia, of whom he has a relationship. Grace, who begins to unravel Royde’s ghosts of the past, sees situations mirroring her own relationship. The pages of this book turned quickly as I watched visually in my head the intertwining and unfolding of these two relationships.
As a female reader who likes reading novels that show women of the past overcoming circumstances, and even modern day women who do, I enjoyed how the author dealt with the elements of these couples and presented to us that though sometimes times change, they also DON’T change when it comes to love and gender roles in romance and work. Fears are still real, no matter what the century and the past can’t seal the future. Which is where the cage part of the title comes into the mix!
I believe the book was elegantly written, flowed nicely between the time periods and within the time periods, had excellent character development, and kept me intrigued and interested. I don’t read much romance overall, but this one with its blend of history and mystery, really had me captivated for a few day’s time.
To win an eBook of The Crystal Cage please complete the Rafflecopter giveaway HERE. Two copies are up for grabs tour wide by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours! Giveaway is open internationally. It ends at 11:59 p.m. on October 15th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
EXCERPT FROM MODERN DAY SETTING:
I reached Silver Street before the Merricks, and the tarpaulins flapping in the wind led me straight to the schoolroom. Apart from an ineffectual attempt to shelter a part of the roof that had been opened to the sky, it was obvious that the builders had abandoned the site without securing it. I was able to open the heavy front door and wander into the narrow vestibule. This was where the girls would have hung their coats and capes and left their galoshes on inclement days. I should have waited for the Merricks here, but I didn’t. I was being nudged to explore. Another door faced me; I pushed it ajar and was drawn into a wide, open space. The schoolroom had remained much the same as it had when the last child had closed the lid of her desk.
I walked across the scratched tiled floor towards the dais that stood at the very end of the room. Remarkably it still boasted a desk, placed in a position of authority. This was where the teacher would have sat, cane no doubt by his or her side. It was as I approached the raised wooden structure that I first felt the prickling. A definite prickling of the skin that started at my scalp and inched downward to my feet. Then my chest began to feel tight and my breath to come less easily. This is absurd, I thought. I was in an empty room, a space that was entirely innocuous. Was I allowing Leo Merrick’s tale of unquiet spirits to get to me?
I was at the dais and starting up the steps to the desk when I stumbled. My legs felt suddenly heavy, so heavy that I could hardly drag one foot in front of the other. It was as though an invisible force was manipulating me, a force I wasn’t able to control. Somehow I managed to clamber onto the dais and collapse into a seat. The prickling had ceased but my chest was still tight, encased in a steel band. I sat staring down at the desk top for what seemed an age, until its grimy ridges began to flow one into another in a mad crisscross dance. When my pulse gradually steadied, I dared to look around. I’d been fearful at what I might see, but all I gazed on was emptiness. Light from the tall, arched windows fell crookedly across the floor, casting the corners of the room into shadow. But nothing moved, nothing breathed.
I should have walked back to the vestibule then, but instead I lifted the desk lid. What made me do that, I have no idea; I just knew in that instant that I had to. The desk was empty, of course. Except for the scent. It was a scent that was very familiar and for a moment it caught in my throat. Then common sense returned, and I lifted the lid a little farther and glimpsed a patch of white. Scrabbling in the deep well of the desk I brought out a linen handkerchief and put it to my nose. The perfume was unmistakeable—jasmine. I shook the handkerchief out and looked at it closely. Patched with a century’s dirt, it must have been tucked at the very back of the desk for years. One corner held a small, embroidered initial. When I saw what it was, my heart gave a sharp jolt. It was the letter A.
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About Merryn Allingham~
My father was a soldier and most of my childhood was spent moving from place to place, school to school, including several years living in Egypt and Germany. I loved some of the schools I attended, but hated others, so it wasn’t too surprising that I left half way through the sixth form with ‘A’ Levels unfinished.
I became a secretary, as many girls did at the time, only to realise that the role of handmaiden wasn’t for me. Escape beckoned when I landed a job with an airline. I was determined to see as much of the world as possible, and working as cabin crew I met a good many interesting people and enjoyed some great experiences – riding in the foothills of the Andes, walking by the shores of Lake Victoria, flying pilgrims from Kandahar to Mecca to mention just a few.
I still love to travel and visit new places, especially those with an interesting history, but the arrival of marriage and children meant a more settled existence on the south coast of England, where I’ve lived ever since. It also gave me the opportunity to go back to ‘school’ and eventually gain a PhD from the University of Sussex. For many years I taught university literature and loved every minute of it. What could be better than spending my life reading and talking about books? Well, perhaps writing them.
I’ve always had a desire to write but there never seemed time to do more than dabble with the occasional short story. And my day job ensured that I never lost the critical voice in my head telling me that I really shouldn’t bother. But gradually the voice started growing fainter and at the same time the idea that I might actually write a whole book began to take hold. My cats – two stunning cream and lilac shorthairs – gave their approval, since it meant my spending a good deal more time at home with them!
The 19th century is my special period of literature and I grew up reading Georgette Heyer, so when I finally found the courage to try writing for myself, the books had to be Regency romances. Over the last four years, writing as Isabelle Goddard, I’ve published six novels set in the Regency period.
Since then, I’ve moved on a few years to Victorian England, and I’ve changed genre too. The Crystal Cage is my first novel under the name of Merryn Allingham. The book is a mystery/romantic suspense and tells the story of a long-lost tragedy, and the way echoes from the past can powerfully influence the life of a modern day heroine. The next few Allingham books will see yet another move timewise. I’ve been writing a suspense trilogy set in India and wartime London during the 1930s and 1940s, and hope soon to have news of publication.
Whatever period, whatever genre, creating new worlds and sharing them with readers gives me huge pleasure and I can’t think of a better job.
EXCERPT FROM VICTORIAN PERIOD:
‘You are very quiet, my love,’ he remarked as they strolled down the South Walk. ‘Does this place perturb you? Vauxhall is hardly the Crystal Palace, I grant.’
She looked vaguely around as though she hardly registered her surroundings. ‘I am well, Lucas, thank you.’ Her voice had lost its rich music.
‘Are you sure?’
‘Yes, it is really nothing.’
‘Which means that you are bothered by something. Tell me,’ he urged.
She hesitated for some minutes before saying diffidently, ‘I thought that I recognised someone as I approached the gates. But I must have been mistaken.’
‘A woman. She looked like a visitor who once came to tea with my mother-in-law. But I must be mistaken,’ she repeated.
‘I think you must. I cannot imagine a friend of the elder Mrs Renville frequenting Vauxhall!’
He was cajoling her, quite sure that her nervous state had precipitated these qualms. ‘But just in case, we will hide ourselves completely,’ and he steered her towards one of the small paths that led away from the main promenade towards what he knew was the Dark Walk. Here the lamps were absent and the company very thin. It was not long before he found a small wooden shelter half way up the Walk where they could be entirely alone amid thick darkness.
‘I have news,’ he said, trying to not to betray his excitement. ‘The plans I have been pursuing are now almost certain. I hope to be designing the Carlyon chapel as an architect in my own right.’
She looked at him blankly. Her mind still seemed far away and he had to reiterate, ‘I will be leaving de Vere’s.’
This startled her into words. ‘But without a salary, how will you manage? How will you afford your lodgings?’
‘Once I am working for the earl, I will be able to afford far superior lodgings. So superior they will be good enough to accommodate you.’
‘I will be able to visit you there?’
He clasped her hands tightly between his. ‘You will be able to live with me there.’
‘You are suggesting that I leave my home?’
He could not understand her reluctance but said patiently, ‘We cannot continue to meet like this, Alessia. You must know that. We must have a place to call our own.’
‘But I cannot leave Edward. I am his wife.’
Why did she cling so tenaciously to a life that she despised? ‘Are you not more my wife than his?’ he asked urgently.
‘But in the eyes of the church…’ Her voice trailed off, disappearing into the night mist.
‘What matters most—our eyes or those of a distant church?’ He was almost fierce in his denunciation.
‘Ours,’ she agreed unhappily.
‘But you cannot have thought—my daughters—’
‘The proceeds of the Carlyon commission will allow me to rent a substantial house. We will have them to live with us.’
‘Edward would never agree.’
‘But surely he would not separate them from their mother.’
‘They are his children and he will wish to keep them. The law is on his side.’
‘I accept that, but if he knows what it means to you to have them?’
‘Can you not understand? They are his children, I am his wife. We belong to him. If I should dare to leave, he will do everything in his power to hurt me.’
The eagerness slowly drained from Lucas and he slumped back against the shelter’s rough wooden wall. She turned to him in anguish, desperately gripping his shoulders. ‘I cannot relinquish my daughters, Lucas. You cannot ask it of me.’
When he responded, his voice held the note of defeat. ‘What you are saying is that you will never come to me.’
A long and painful silence descended between them while Alessia slowly twisted into mangled leather the gloves she held. At length, in a voice hardly above a whisper, she said, ‘I did not say that.’
The words appeared wrenched from her, but they galvanised Lucas. He leant forward again, all his eagerness returned. ‘Then say you will come. Say that you love me enough to do this.’
‘Sometimes,’ she said slowly, ‘I think you do not know just how much I love you.’
‘Then come to me, my darling.’
‘As soon as the Great Exhibition has opened, I will be free to work for Lord Carlyon. I will make all the necessary plans.’
‘And my children?’
‘Once we are settled in our new home, I will request an interview with your husband. I will tell him your need for your daughters and say that everything will be done discreetly. You are not a part of his social world, so who is to know that you no longer live at Wisteria Lodge?’
She shook her head and a look of near despair flooded her lovely face.
‘Alessia!’ he said urgently. ‘It cannot truly matter to Edward Renville whether you live with him or not. It is only his business that he cares for. And as for the children, he will see them whenever he wishes.’
Her continued silence moved him to desperation. ‘If you love me, you will come.’
‘I do, I do,’ she said sobbing into his shoulder.
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I was given a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.