Third in Riley’s Seven Sisters series (The Storm Sister, 2016, etc.) about adopted daughters in search of their ancestry.
Star, real name Asterope after one of the “seven sisters” of the Pleiades star cluster, has, upon the recent death of her adoptive father, a wealthy Swiss seafarer, returned to her childhood chateau on Lake Geneva to retrieve his legacy to her: a figurine of a black panther, the address of a bookshop in London, and a name, Flora MacNichol. Star has given up dreams of academe to stay close to sister CeCe in London—so symbiotic is their relationship that Star has always been known as CeCe’s shadow. Star visits the bookshop, whose eccentric proprietor, Orlando Forbes, comes from impoverished nobility. When she learns that Flora, her presumed ancestor, may be related to Orlando, she accompanies him to the family seat, High Weald, in Kent, where she meets Orlando’s truculent brother Mouse, their cousin Marguerite Vaughan, and her young son Rory, heir to the estate. Star is immediately drawn to the crumbling hall and the surrounding flora and fauna. She consults journals she finds in the mansion and learns that in 1909, Flora gave up her true love, Archie, Lord Vaughan, to her younger sister Aurelia. For reasons not immediately revealed, Aurelia is the repository of her landed but cash-poor family’s hopes and limited resources, while Flora is treated like a stepchild despite her beauty and talent. (Flora is an animal lover and budding naturalist who will later become a protégé of Beatrix Potter.) After her parents sell their beloved country home to fund Aurelia’s dowry, Flora is sent to live with Mrs. Keppel, a society grand dame rumored to be King Edward’s mistress. With Mrs. Keppel’s help, Flora seems slated for an advantageous but loveless match to a drunken earl. The frame story structure serves this installment well—the past and present narratives are equally engaging. The storytelling is leisurely, almost to excess, then suddenly the stakes heighten as the Forbes-Vaughan connection is illuminated and Star discovers her true heritage and destiny.
Another pleasant jaunt down a genealogical rabbit hole.