Title: The Last Daughter
Author: Nicola Cornick
Genre: Historical Fiction/Magical Realism
Published: 8th July 2021 (7th July 2021 in Australia)
Synopsis: A secret hidden in the past.
A family bound by a dark legacy… Ever since her sister disappeared eleven years ago, Serena Warren has been running from a ghost, haunted by what she can’t remember about that night.
When Caitlin’s body is discovered, Serena returns to her grandfather’s house, nestled beside the ruins of Minster Lovell Hall in Oxfordshire, determined to uncover the truth. But in returning to the place of her childhood summers, Serena stands poised at the brink of a startling discovery – one that will tie her family to a centuries-old secret…
Taking readers from the present day to the Wars of the Roses in the 1400s, and with an enthralling mystery at its heart, The Last Daughter is a spellbinding novel about family secrets, perfect for fans of Lucinda Riley, Barbara Erskine and Kate Morton.
In 2011, Serena’s twin sister, Caitlin vanishes without a trace. In the 1470s onwards, a young woman is wed to the Lovell family, and from there, a mystery and intrigue based around the War of the Roses and other mysteries and intrigues of the era. Moving between 2021, after the discovery of Caitlin’s body and the 1400s, The Last Daughter explores family mysteries, histories and ideas of trauma and identity, and is a powerful story about memory and the role that secrets play in our lives.
Moving between the time periods also has another difference. Anne’s 1400s storyline is told in the first person as she experiences her marriage to Francis from the age of five, and the growing tensions between England and France that lead to battles and wars, and separation of husband and wife as Anne tries to protect someone important. The Last Daughter also explores archaeology and mental health, and the role that archaeology and history play in shaping what we know about the past and about ourselves, as well as an intriguing mystery about Serena’s grandfather – who is he, and what secrets is he hiding?
This is one of those books that uses magical realism and historical mysteries to tell a compelling story, and that will link Serena’s family to one of the most intriguing mysteries from English history – and what it means to be linked to one of these, and this is slowly revealed across the novel as little hints are dropped throughout the novel in the past and the present to keep the reader going as they try to piece together the clues from the past and the present to work out what happened to Caitlin, and who Serena’s grandfather really is. It allows us to explore our human desire to understand identity and where we come from, and our history, and connections to places that have significant meaning to us, and the wider public and archaeological and historical interests. Whilst the role that the archaeologists played was small, it was one of my favourite aspects, as it would be quite a thing to be uncovering the sort of things Jack and Zoe did!
The mystery of Caitlin’s disappearance and discovery of her body was the key factor in driving the narrative – and a few things that came up about a third of the way through made it even more mysterious and had me galloping through to find out why the results the police had were what they were. This was a crucial plot point I thought, and the revelations were certainly mysterious, and I was desperate to find out more about them, and the lodestar that was referred to in the past and present throughout the novel.
I loved the way the history and magical realism worked together in this book, in the same way it does for books by Kate Forsyth, Jackie French, Kate Morton and several other authors who employ some kind of magical element within their books, and bring history, mystery and magic to life for the reader. The examination of how trauma can affect memory was, I think, done sensitively, and allowed Serena to explore what she was feeling, and how she felt at the time in safe and easy to access ways for the reader who may not understand what Serena has gone through, yet the way it is presented, the reasons why Serena can’t remember everything makes sense, especially as the novel progresses and we get glimpses into the past, and what the implications of these glimpses might mean for the future.
This compelling book will have something for everyone – and whilst I felt the romance was tempered and quiet, which is the way I like it, the magical realism, mystery and historical aspects were the focus, and the powerful driving forces that made the novel what it was for me. It is one that I hope people will enjoy, and one that will capture its audience and Nicola’s fans.