Release date: January 9, 2018
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Historical Fiction
Annabelle and Bayard Van Duyvil live a charmed life: he’s the scion of an old Knickerbocker family, she grew up in a Tudor manor in England, they had a whirlwind romance in London, they have three year old twins on whom they dote, and he’s recreated her family home on the banks of the Hudson and renamed it Illyria. Yes, there are rumors that she’s having an affair with the architect, but rumors are rumors and people will gossip. But then Bayard is found dead with a knife in his chest on the night of their Twelfth Night Ball, Annabelle goes missing, presumed drowned, and the papers go mad. Bay’s sister, Janie, forms an unlikely alliance with a reporter to uncover the truth, convinced that Bay would never have killed his wife, that it must be a third party, but the more she learns about her brother and his wife, the more everything she thought she knew about them starts to unravel. Who were her brother and his wife, really? And why did her brother die with the name George on his lips?
The cover for The English Wife is absolutely stunning, I just had to get that out of the way because I’ve looked at it a gazillion times! This was the perfect book to be my first review of the new year as I’m hoping to add more historical fiction to my TBR and I had heard wonderful things about Willig’s books so this was an easy pick for me. This was a beautifully rendered tale of love, betrayal and sacrifice all shrouded in a dark gothic mystery that swept me away to the gilded age.
This is told via dual timelines, but there isn’t a huge gap between them, one is in 1899 and the other begins just a few years before and details the events that lead to the murder of Bayard. Janie is his sister and she narrates the parts after his death and I really connected to her. She was an outsider in her own family, always just on the fringes of society despite being part of a prominent family and her insecurities made her easy to relate to.
This was so well written, Willig is a gifted writer who uses rich details to conjure up images that really came to life. There was drama and scandal aplenty, especially for the era, there were some taboo topics and surprising turns that I didn’t predict. I do want to add that it moved at a slow pace at times but I believe your patience will be rewarded if you keep reading, part of the charm is the attention to detail but it can be slightly verbose.
Overall rating: 4/5
Thanks to the publisher and the Great Thoughts Ninja review team for my copy.