The House at Bishopsgate, Katie Hickman
Genre: Literature and fiction, Historical.
When I started reading this I hadn’t realised it was the third book in a trilogy, and in fact I’d read and really enjoyed the first, The Aviary Gate, several years back.
At that time I was going through a historical phase, reading books like those by Norah Lofts, set back in time, describing the minutiae of everyday life, from a very personal viewpoint. I didn’t realise back then that there were to be sequels to TAG, and I do recall being very disappointed with the unsatisfying, ambiguous ending.
Of course now all three books are out it makes sense 😉 but its been a long time between books, I think it was around late 2009/early 2010 when I read the first one, the pre kindle days….
I’d like to read the second book sometime, there are so many things that happened there that affect this book, and though I could follow the story without having read it, parts would probably have made more sense, be better understood.
It took me a while to get into it, its got a very slow start, in fact it begins with the ending, some 30 years on, and I almost gave up as it seemed so staid, dull and dreary.
Still, with memories of the Aviary Gate I continued, and soon became lost in the magic of the writing. I felt back in time there with the story, as if it was happening right now and I was a voyeur to it, and I enjoyed both the characters and the story.
I had a soft spot for John Carew in TAG, and enjoyed the parts where he was connected to this part of the story, and of course the way Annetta and he “heard “ each others voices, a real love story there but so incredibly sad for both.
They’d both had such a hard life so far, and I so wanted them to finally find the happiness they deserved.
There was something about him that came out at the end which surprised me, maybe if I’d read book two I’d have seen that but it made sense once I knew it.
Celia too hears Annetta’s voice in her head. They have a very special relationship, from life back in the Harem, and of course their final risky escape.
I love Celia, and admired her love for her husband Paul. They too had been through so much, finally being reunited and yet still vastly apart in so many ways.
On the surface they have everything, they’d promised themselves life would be perfect back in England, but now they are there, with a massive house, full of treasures Paul collected, no money, every luxury possible yet somehow they still are apart.
Celia starts to shrink in on herself, as her place in the house has been cleverly usurped by widowed traveller Frances Sydenham, who they helped travel to England, and who seems to have become a permanent fixture in their home.
Under the guise of “helping” her friend Celia she takes over the household tasks, and poor Celia becomes further and further away from Paul and the happiness they promised themselves. I so felt for them both, Celia wanted to be a wife in every sense, but was lost back in England, felt so out of place, everything so different after her years in the harem, and Frances is so clever in her manipulations pushing her further away from Paul and her place as Mistress of the home.
Paul still seems to think Celia is healing, seems almost scared of her at times, as if she’s some fragile little bird, and he just doesn’t see her as she is now, as the strong person she’s had to be to overcome everything she’s been through.
He too doesn’t notice how Frances displaces Celia, thinking she’s become a friend to her, a trusted support.
Her ultimate target was clear to me after not too long but both Paul and for a while Celia were oblivious. When she starts to make a move, slowly and cautiously so anything could be taken as innocent I wanted to shake him, make him see how dangerous she was. I do love a character like that in a story though, keeps things interesting, makes the story ultimately very unpredictable in which was it will go.
Then there’s Paul’s awful brother Ralph, a greedy grasping boy grown into a selfish, power crazed man. He really was a horrible character, there’s bits about his childhood bullying of John Carew here, but it did make me wonder if there was more in the second book, as I can’t recall much from book one. However as I said that was years back so might just be my recollection. Certainly I understood John’s need for revenge.
When Annetta finally came into the story I breathed a sigh of relief. Surely she’d see through Frances, and stop her machinations? Well, she does but there’s only so much she can do, and its not without danger.
The story weaves cleverly from the big house at Bishopsgate initially, onto events at Court, to the home Ralph and Paul grew up in, and gradually unfolds, laying trails for what is to come.
It kept me guessing, wanting Frances out, wanting happiness together for Paul and Celia, and of course for John and Annetta. The four had been through so much, they really deserved that.
Events seem to be conspiring against them though, and the people above all have important parts in how the story played out.
I love Paul and Celia, and their enduring love, at a time when any whiff of scandal could have a lady ostracised and Paul with her. It would have been easy for him to just leave her abroad and make a life with someone “respectable”, but hearts and feelings prevailed and they’d been reunited. It remained to be seen whether they could get that happy ending though.
Ultimately though I think my favourite characters were Annetta and John Carew – he’s always John Carew in the story.
I loved how he and Annetta shared imaginary thoughts, heard advice from each other and at times it was hard to tell if it really was in their heads or if it was real in some way. It certainly felt real, though maybe that was because they knew each other so well they could predict what the other would say, how they would react.
It’s clear how much they love each other still, after many years apart, even though he’s told she’s dead, and she is hoping he’s alive, but so far she and Paul have been unable to trace him.
The events of the story take place over a few months, and were well paced even though the ending was bittersweet in a way.
Its one of those stories that are slow reading, gently absorbed, where the real world drops away as you become enmeshed in their lives and events.
I did find the first 20% really hard going though, too slow, even in a carefully and deliberately meandering tale. As I said I almost gave up, and that’s a shame because I really enjoyed the rest.
I haven’t mentioned the jewel, the piece that plays such a large part of the description – its important to the story, but in fact I feel its a kind of hidden backbone, directing so much of the ultimate events, and yet very sparse in actual storyline.
That worked well for me, enhanced the mystery of it, the rumours and stories about its power.
Stars: four, a fabulous read but so slow to start, and with the stories being so many years apart its hard to recollect exactly what happened in the past.
ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers