Back in the summer I read a wonderful novel called Beyond the Sea by Melissa Bailey. I loved it and was swept away by Melissa’s ability to create atmosphere and such a vivid sense of place – you can read my review here. I loved it so much that I (maybe a little cheekily!) asked Melissa if she’d send me a copy of her first book. Well she did, and I’m so very glad because I loved this one too. Check out the cover above – that in itself rang a whole lot of my bells. Doesn’t it just invite you in?
So what’s it about?
‘I have heard, but not believed, the spirits of the dead may walk again…’
A hidden room
When architect Johnny Carter is asked to redesign a long-abandoned Victorian shoe factory, he discovers a hidden room deep in the basement. A dark, sinister room, which contains a sixteenth-century Venetian mirror.
A love in danger
Johnny has a new love, Ophelia, in his life. But as the pair’s relationship develops and they begin to explore the mystery surrounding the mirror, its malign influence threatens to envelop and destroy them.
A secret history
The mirror’s heritage dates back to the sixteenth century, and the figure of Catherine de Medici – betrayed wife, practitioner of the occult, and known as the Black Queen.
The Medici Mirror is a haunting story of jealousy, obsession, and murder, perfect for fans of Kate Mosse and Barbara Erskine; a story about the ability of the past to influence the present and of love’s power to defeat even the most powerful of curses.
This is another novel with an incredible sense of place. I was fascinated by the descriptions of the old, derelict shoe factory with all its machinery and materials still in situ. I could almost smell the dust and leather and was just as keen as the protagonists to see it brought back to life. But nothing lies dormant for decades without accumulating its fair share of secrets and this factory is no different.
From the very beginning the reader realises that this narrative will be split. It opens with Catherine de Medici and her concerns regarding her husband’s affair before moving to the modern day and Johnny’s story. Johnny is at a vulnerable stage in his life and very early on meets the somewhat mysterious love interest, Ophelia – who happens to be a fashion photographer specialising in shoes. As the two of them and Johnny’s beautiful colleague Tara start to dig away at the history of the factory you just can’t help but want to know how the two eras will be linked. I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to point out the significance of the mirror in the title at this point…
The narrative deftly switches between Contemporary London, Victorian London and 1540’s France bringing in some incredible historical detail which Melissa must have spent considerable time researching. I love novels which lead me off on a ‘Google tangent’ and this had me looking up Victorian shoes, Venetian mirrors and the story of Catherine de Medici and her husband (the King of France) in more detail.
Melissa writes strong, female characters particularly well but all the characters in this novel are well-rounded, if flawed – as they should be. The story is excellently plotted with a very satisfying ending – a compelling mix of murder, passion, intrigue and the supernatural. It’s a ghost story in the vein of my favourite Victorian ghost stories; eerie, spooky and chilling rather than terrifying but no less accomplished because of that. It’s gripping and smart – and unbelievably, a debut novel. A perfect read to curl up with on a winter’s evening. Thank you so much Melissa! I can’t wait for book number three.
Go on, treat yourself: The Medici Mirror