While a slow-burner of a read, this subtle novel soon enthrals and captivates.
Reading the synopsis for this cleverly detailed and absorbing read from Susan Stokes-Chapman, I was immediately intrigued as to how you can take a classic mythological story and transport it to Georgian London.
Dora is an aspiring jewellery designer who lives under the roof of her unscrupulous and deceitful uncle Hezekiah, whose acquirement of a mysterious Greek vase immediately piques her interest as to what he is hiding – leads her (with the help of Edward Lawrence, a young antiquarian scholar) aspiring to the discovery of long hidden secrets and uncovering deception but also hope and love.
While for the first few chapters of Pandora, the story takes a while to get going,the element of mystery perhaps a tad overdone, there is much to admire in the way in which Susan Stokes-Chapman opts to uncover the story layer by layer in a subtle way that keeps the reader thoroughly engaged. The level of detail in every aspect that she covers from the detailing of the mysterious vase to the unpleasant smells and sights the characters experience is utterly incredible and absorbing even if the vividness can be a little bit nasty in places.
On top of this, what also impresses is the way in which the book perfectly blends the elements of history, mythology with a touch of romance with so much ease. With each of these elements it will appeal to a number of different readers in the way in which it is constructed – whether you are a fan of historical fiction, Greek mythology or history, there is plenty that will intrigue as the story unfolds .The simplicity of the number of characters involved also helps to keep the story focused, while switching from each character’s perspective adds extra detail that means you can really get to grips with the characters and their background.
Yes, it would be fair to say that it could be tightened up further- it does build up the suspense a little too much early on that can make the reader feel slightly impatient as to where it is heading – but if you stick with it, it is worth the wait.
There is a real darkness in tone to the story that constantly appeals and each of the characters have been vividly drawn. Dora herself seems very forward for her time – seeking independence and to run her life as she sees fit (although its hardly any surprise considering her villainous uncle) – she has a spirit about her that makes you hope beyond hope that she gets what she deserves. Elsewhere, I was intrigued by the development of Lottie’s character – initially disdainful of Dora, to see her transform is fascinating as more revelations are discovered, while the underlying feelings of Cornelius are really touchingly conveyed in a subtle way.
Despite a slow beginning, Pandora develops into a fascinating read that will appeal to many readers who enjoy finding new ways to experience mythology being re-examined.
By Emma Clarendon