Taylor’s new YA trilogy begins when a teen investigates her mother’s disappearance while visiting the family’s ancestral home in England.
Sixteen-year-old Charlotte Stevens of Venice Beach, California, has just been caught plagiarizing. She downloaded and turned in a college essay for her Richard II assignment in English class. More embarrassing, her father is the bestselling mystery writer Simon Stevens. When the vice principal meets him, however, she finds him falling-down drunk. Simon acknowledges that he and his daughter haven’t been doing well since his wife, Elizabeth, vanished four years ago. He decides to dry out in a clinic and sends Charlotte to Somerset, England, to stay with Elizabeth’s brother, Nigel. Before meeting her uncle, Charlotte encounters Caleb and Sophie, the teen offspring of Nigel’s housekeeper. They help situate her at the sumptuous Gaersum Aern estate, which has an ouroboros carved above the entrance. She also learns that wealthy scion Hayden Wriothesley, cousin to the royal family, has been tasked with her entertainment. Later, while staying in her mother’s old bedroom, Charlotte discovers a puzzle box and a diary. Inside the box is a pentagram and cryptic note from her mother, and the diary reveals that Elizabeth had been infatuated with Hayden’s father, Emerick, as a girl. Taylor (Tick Tock: Seven Tales of Time, 2016, etc.) unspools a posh, literary mystery. As elements like Shakespeare’s true identity and Francis Bacon’s lofty ideals enter the fray, Charlotte is torn between the bookish Caleb and the magnetic Hayden, whose Aston Martin “felt like an energy chamber, both exciting and sickening.” Taylor’s insight into the teen mind is as pointed as it is hilarious; the youngsters often act as though “being sixteen were a disease they needed to hide.” As journals are explored and graves are uncovered, the central mystery gains traction. Meanwhile, romance takes full flight, and Taylor’s superb characterizations leave readers guessing who’s right for Charlotte (until one of them says, “I will be your first...then I’ll be your only”). Some truly risqué moments gear this volume toward older readers.
An emotionally robust, intellectually vibrant start to a new YA trilogy.