Lady Katherine Trenowyth is a beautiful, headstrong young woman who chafes at her expected life. She wants to study to be an artist, not just dabble in painting while gracing the arm of some approved, socially equal husband. When her father, the Earl, commissions portraits of the family, she falls in love with the artist's assistant and ultimately runs away with him, heedless of the consequences of her actions. Her impetuosity doesn't quite turn out as she imagined and her early death from cancer orphans her small daughter, Anna. As an adult, all Anna knows about her father is that he was a soldier who died in WWI without ever marrying her mother. Illegitimate, Anna has never been acknowledged by her mother's family but when she is posted to Nanreath Hall, her mother's childhood home, as a VAD, she runs to her adoptive parents to discuss the posting with them. Unfortunately Graham and Prue have been killed in the bombing leveling so much of London, taking their knowledge of her origins to the grave with them. Anna is alone in the world with no choice but to go to her post and to face the few remaining family members still living at Nanreath Hall. Her welcome there is quite frosty and she stays as busy as possible working in the hospital wings of the house, avoiding the family if she can. But she is determined to discover as much as she can about her history and as she digs deeper, deeply buried secrets and scandals come to light.
The novel moves back and forth in time chapter by chapter, from Lady Katherine (Kitty) to Anna Trenowyth. Because of this, the reader knows Kitty's story long before Anna does, although there are still some revelations saved to the very end of the novel. Anna is a much stronger character than her mother is. The narration of the chapters about Anna is snappier and more complete and the reader feels closer to her as a result. Some of the secondary characters have interesting stories themselves and they are fleshed out to varying degrees. There is a strong romantic element to the novel and the idea of what it means to love and how are certainly themes threaded through the narrative. The most encompassing theme though, is that of identity, both as it is determined personally and as it is conferred upon a person. Kitty ran away to be a person her family could never conceive of (or accept). Anna is still forging her identity throughout the narrative as she searches for the truth of her existence and as she absorbs her own personal tragedies of war. The secrets of Nanreath Hall don't turn out to be terribly surprising in the end but the predictability is forgivable since the story is otherwise engaging. Fans of historical fiction, and especially those who have a penchant for stories set during the world wars or who are Anglophiles, will enjoy this tale of family, lies, forgiveness, and loyalty.
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Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.