The House of Shadows by Kate Williams - book review

The House of Shadows by Kate Williams
The House of Shadows by Kate Williams
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Finding a new business opening in New York is the final throw of the dice for the struggling half-German, half-English De Witt family as they try to save their home and their fortune.

But it’s 1929, the world is rapidly changing and with one cruel and destructive war behind them, the younger generation must prepare for heartbreak as a dark shadow threatens to once more fall across Europe.

TV historian and author Kate Williams returns with the final gripping chapter of her epic 20th century trilogy which began in late Edwardian England with Storms of War, and then swept us away to the glitz and glamour of 1920s London in The Edge of the Fall.

Through war and peace, the family has been torn apart by personal tragedy and German-born Rudolf de Witt’s long internment in a camp during the First World War which left his successful meat business in tatters and his imposing Jacobean mansion, Stoneythorpe Hall, a shabby shadow of its former self.

But Williams is a social historian as well as an acclaimed author and this series of novels has delivered not just a thrilling tale of one family’s journey through two decades of turbulent history but a fascinating exploration of the human cost of conflict and social change.

Twenty-nine-year-old Celia de Witt is heir to her family’s vast fortune but her life seems less secure than ever. A shocking revelation from her father sends her far from England and the life she knows and headlong into New York, a city brimming with money, energy, newness and promise.

Celia is helping her brother Arthur, who still lives under the shadow of his wife’s death, as he tries to rescue the family’s food firm, Winter Meats, and their home, Stoneythorpe Hall, which is gradually falling apart.

They hope to get the Americans interested in investing in their business and Celia has the perfect pitch… Flapper Foods, an innovative range of convenience foods for the new generation of independent young women who want to eat but don’t want to cook.

But Celia also has other plans. Michael, the young son she was made to believe was dead, is in America and the man she once thought she loved is also nearby. But Celia knows that if she opens the Pandora’s Box of the past, she may find other secrets will escape.

As tensions rise in Europe and the possibility of war once again starts to raise its ugly head, Celia is determined to save those she loves… even if it comes at the highest price.

Williams blends fact and fiction in a complex, vivid and richly detailed story which brings us real history but with heart and emotional depth as we watch the troubled De Witt family living through changing times full of pathos, drama and the devastation of events beyond their control.

The challenging, highly-charged years of the 1930s spring to life as the world teeters precariously on the precipice of another terrifying war and the action moves briskly from the brash brightness of Manhattan’s busy, bustling sidewalks to the ever-increasing darkness and tensions of London and Europe.

Brimming with a historian’s knowledge and an author’s human insight, Williams’s trilogy has been an exciting and absorbing portrait of a world in flux, and a poignant fictional reflection on life in the opening decades of the 20th century.

(Orion, hardback, £18.99)