Shadow of a Lady (by Jane Aiken Hodge)

On the whole, I enjoy novels by the late Jane Aiken Hodge. I've collected quite a few over the years, mostly from second-hand or charity shops, since the majority are now out of print.

It's many years since I read 'Shadow of a Lady', and while I had vague recollections of the first chapter, I'd quite forgotten the rest. It's a historical novel, set in the time of the Napoleonic wars. Helen Telfair is the fictional heroine, who appears in a cameo aged eight as the book opens, although the majority of the book takes place when she is a young, and independent-minded adult.

Although Helen is fictional, she is surrounded by a cast of characters from history including the flamboyant Emma Hart.

I'd recommend this book to anyone who likes their historical fiction to be primarily history. The writing is very good, as I've come to expect with Jane Aiken Hodge, but for my tastes I found the story too full of ships and battles and intrigue. In places it's rather sordid (though no doubt realistic). Indeed, the main focus of the story - Helen's marriage of convenience - relies on some extreme unpleasantness.

My tastes run towards more fiction and less history, so I found it a bit tedious in places. Still, I was interested enough to read to the end, and found the conclusion reasonably satisfying, albeit too fast and rather too tidy.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 29th July 2009

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