The Hidden Palace by Dinah Jefferies, second in the ‘Daughters of War’ trilogy, wasn’t quite what I expected. I felt disconnected from the first book which means it’s perfectly possible to be read as a standalone novel. Florence Baudin, one of the three Baudin sisters featured in Daughters of War, first in the series, has fled France leaving her sisters behind. It is 1944 and she is in England at the isolated Devon cottage of Jack, the English SOE agent who led her through France and Spain to safety. Florence is finally reunited with her mother Claudette who had stayed in England for the war. As sharp and feisty as ever, Claudette doesn’t make her daughter feel welcome but has a surprising request. Will Florence find her younger sister Rosalie who ran away from the family home in Paris in 1925? Florence, desperate to be closer to her mother, agrees despite the absence of clues, despite it being wartime.
This is a dual timeline story. 1944 with Florence, and 1925 with Rosalie Delacroix who flees Paris and goes to Malta where she finds work as a dancer. Rosalie is a more dynamic character than Florence, she makes things happen. Rosalie swaps career from dancer to journalist, publishing editor to campaigner, not all of which felt natural for her character. This is a novel of two separate stories – of aunt and niece, two decades apart – linked by genes but not impacting on each other.
Basically this tells of the search for a missing person. From the book blurb I anticipated a story set during the WW2 siege of Malta but it was late coming; at 70% through the novel Rosalie was still in 1930s. When war does come, I wanted to know more about Malta at this time. It was such a dramatic period in history and is seldom written about in fiction. Rosalie’s work as a plotter in the underground control centre during the defence of Malta is good, but slim pickings. Jefferies contrasts well the beauty of Malta with a darker underlying menace, prostitution, trafficking of women. This is an island invaded and settled by foreigners over many centuries with the looming threat of another world war. The hidden palace of the book’s title is a mesmerising maze of a building, like something out of an exotic Mary Stewart suspense novel. Is it a sanctuary or a prison. It’s a mysterious setting I was hoping would be used as a sanctuary during the war or perhaps a secret military headquarters.
The theme of unity and divisions between sisters shows how misunderstandings, if not addressed, can become impenetrable division. The deepest of bad feelings are better aired and faced, than deeply buried. Running away does not leave the old trouble behind, but also causes new problems.
I like to be immersed in characters and prefer long sections so I become emotionally involved. This story jumps around a lot between timelines which can be disorientating. The use of a cliffhanger at the end of each chapter is meant to add tension to keep the reader reading, but there needs to be a worthy pay-off each time. When chunks of years were skipped in Rosalie’s story, I wanted to know what was missing. It was like looking at a family photo album with pages torn out.
So, a bit of a curate’s egg. It didn’t advance the story of the three Baudin sisters, as I was expecting. But Rosalie’s story in Malta kept my attention.
CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
Click the title to read my review of DAUGHTERS OF WAR, first in this trilogy.
And here are my reviews of some of Dinah Jefferies’ other novels:-
THE TEA PLANTER’S WIFE
THE SAPPHIRE WIDOW
THE TUSCAN CONTESSA
If you like this, try:-
‘The Gabriel Hounds’ by Mary Stewart
‘The Postcard from Italy’ by Angela Petch
‘The Last Hours in Paris’ by Ruth Druart
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE HIDDEN PALACE by @DinahJefferies #bookreview https://wp.me/p2ZHJe-63n via @SandraDanby