House of Shadows

One House, Three Women, Three Loves, One Secret

February 1662

On the eve of her death Elizabeth Stuart, the Winter Queen, gives her faithful cavalier William Craven an ancient pearl with magical properties to keep safe for her rightful heir. Craven will build a magnificent house and estate to Elizabeth’s memory and at the centre of it will be the pearl…

February 1801

Notorious Regency courtesan Lavinia Flyte comes to Ashdown Park with her protector, Lord Evershot, who is intent on discovering the Winter Queen’s treasures. Evershot’s search will unleash all the power and the danger that has lain dormant for a hundred and fifty years…

February 2014

Holly Ansell is astonished when a chance acquaintance bequeaths to her a battered mirror that is reputed to have once belonged to Elizabeth Stuart, the Winter Queen. Following clues left by her brother, who has disappeared, Holly goes to Ashdown Park and discovers the diary of a Regency courtesan and with it a mystery that spans four centuries. Where is the fabled pearl that Elizabeth gave to William Craven? What happened to Lavinia Flyte? And who is the Winter Queen’s rightful heir?

“This compelling yet poignant and at times frightening story calls out to every historical fiction lovers out there to read it and enjoy its glory forever”

— Book Stop Corner

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Chapter 1

Palace of Holyroodhouse, Scotland, November 1596

King James paused with his hand already raised to the iron latch. Even now he was not sure that he was doing the right thing. A spiteful winter wind skittered along the stone corridor, lifting the tapestries from the walls and setting him shivering deep within his fur-lined tunic.

The pearl and the mirror should be given to Elizabeth, that was indisputable; they were her birthright. Yet this was a dangerous gift. James knew their power.

The Queen of England had made no show of her baptismal present to her goddaughter and namesake. In fact it was widely believed that Mr Robert Bowes of Aske, who had stood proxy for her Majesty at the christening, had brought no gift with him at all. It was only after the service had been completed, the baby duly presented as the first daughter of Scotland, and the guests had dispersed to enjoy the feast, that Aske had called James to one side and passed him a velvet box in which rested the Sistrin pearl and the jewelled mirror.

“These belonged to your mother,” Bowes had said. “Her Majesty is eager that they should be passed to her granddaughter.”

For diplomacy’s sake James had bitten back the retort that had sprung to his lips. Trust the old bitch of England to present as a gift those items that were his daughter’s by right. But then he could play this game as well as any; he had paid Elizabeth of England the compliment of naming his firstborn girl after her. It was outrageous flattery for his mother’s murderer, but politics was of more import than spilt blood.

“Majesty?”

He turned. Alison Hay, the baby’s mistress-nurse was approaching. Her face bore no trace of surprise or alarm, although he could only imagine her speculation in finding King James of Scotland dithering outside his baby daughter’s chambers. He should have thought to send for one of the Princess Elizabeth’s attendants rather than to loiter like a fool in cold corridors. But Mistress Hay’s arrival had brought with it relief. There was now no cause to knock or to enter this realm of women. James’ insides curdled at the thought of the stench of the room, of stale sweat and that sweetly sour smell that seemed to cling to a baby. The women would all be grouped about the child’s cradle, fussing and smiling and clucking like so many hens. Thank God that soon they would all be departing for Linlithgow where the princess would have her own household under the guardianship of Lord and Lady Livingston.

He groped in his pocket and his fingers closed over the black velvet of the box.

“This is for the Princess Elizabeth. A baptismal gift.” He held it out to her.

Mistress Hay did not take the box immediately. A frown creased her brow.

“Would your majesty not prefer to give it to Lady Livingston—”

“No!” James was desperate to be rid of the burden, desperate to be gone. “Take it.” He pushed it at her. The box fell between their hands, springing open, the contents rolling out onto the stone floor.

He heard Mistress Hay gasp.

Few men – or women – had seen either the Sistrin Pearl or the jewelled mirror. The pearl had never been worn and the mirror had never been used. Both were shaped like teardrops. Both shone with an unearthly bluish-white glow, the one seeming a reflection of the other: matched, equal, alike.

The pearl had been borne of water, found in the freshwater oyster beds of the River Tay centuries before, and had been part of the collection of King Alexander I. The mirror had been forged in fire by the glassblowers of Murano, its frame decorated with diamonds of the finest quality and despatched as a gift to James’ mother Mary, Queen of Scots on her marriage. Mary had delighted in the similarity of the two and had had the rich black velvet box made for them.

Yet from the first there had been rumours about both. The Sistrin pearl was said to have formed from the tears of the water goddess Briant and to offer its owner powerful protection, but if its magic was misused it would bring death through water. There were whispers that the Sistrin had caused King Alexander’s wife Sybilla to drown when Alexander had tried to bind its power to his will. The mirror was also a potent charm, but it was said that it would wreak devastation by fire if it were used for corrupt purposes. James was a rational man of science and he did not believe in magic, but something about the jewels set the hairs rising on his neck. If he had been of a superstitious disposition he would have said that it was almost as though he could feel their power like a living thing; crouched, waiting.

Alison Hay was on her knees now, scrabbling to catch the pearl before it rolled away and was lost down a drain or through a crack in the floor. James did not trouble to help. He did not want to touch it. The mirror lay where it had fallen, facing up, miraculously unbroken.

Alison grabbed the pearl and struggled to her feet, flushed, breathing hard. In one hand she had the box, the pearl safely back within it, glowing with innocent radiance. In the other she held the mirror. As James watched, she glanced down at its milky blue surface. Her eyes widened. Her lips parted. James snatched it from her, bundling it roughly face down into the box and snapping the lid shut.

“Don’t look into it,” he said. “Never look into it.”

It was too late. Her face was chalk white, eyes blank pools.

“What did you see?” James’ voice was harsh with emotion. Terror gripped him, visceral, setting his heart pounding. Then, as she did not reply: “Answer me!”

“Fire,” she said. She spoke flatly as if by rote, “Buildings eaten by flame. Gunpowder. Death. And a child in a cream coloured gown with a crown of gold.”

“Twaddle.” James gripped the box as though he could crush the contents; crush the very idea of them. “Superstitious nonsense, all of it.” Yet even he could hear the hollow ring of fear in his voice. Before magic, cold reason fled.

“Lock them away,” he said, pushing the box back into the nurse’s hands. “Keep them safe.”

“Majesty.” She dropped a curtsey.

It was done. From behind the closed door he heard the thin wail of a baby and the murmur of female voices joined in a soothing lullaby. James turned on his heel and walked away, heading for the courtyard and the fresh clean air of winter to chase away the shadow that stalked him. Yet even outside under a crystalline grey sky plump with snow he was not free of guilt. He had given the Sistrin and the mirror to his baby daughter, as the Queen of England had commanded, but it felt that in some terrible way he had cursed her with it.

End of Excerpt

House of Shadows

is available in the following formats:
UK Edition

November 5, 2015 · MIRA Books UK · ISBN 13: 978-1848454163 · ISBN 10: 1848454163

Acclaim

Reviews for House of Shadows
Historians are going to adore this book and as for regular readers, they are going to treasure this masterpiece

“This compelling yet poignant and at times frightening story calls out to every historical fiction lovers out there to read it and enjoy its glory forever”

A gripping read
I was hooked!

“This book is the perfect read to get engrossed in and to keep you there. With three time periods, three heroines and their love stories, and two objects defining their fate an their journey in life, I was hooked.”

Booktrail
A must-read for fans of romantic time-slip novels

“An intriguing journey through time that weaves between 17th-century power plays during the life of the Winter Queen, Elizabeth of Bohemia; the memoirs of an early 19th-century courtesan, Lavinia Flyte; and a modern-day missing-person case.”

A triumph for Nicola Cornick

“Travel through time and space, follow a family over three centuries, marvel at mystical jewels—this time-slip tale has it all.”

Fantastic Story woven around historical facts

“The fact that Nicola Cornick is an historian shines through, her attention to detail is impeccable.”

Fans of Kate Morton will enjoy this gripping tale
A beautiful, haunting, atmospheric 5/5* read.

“The story had 3 tales of love and not all was a happy one.  This was a beautiful, heartfelt, at times tormenting and haunting story that will stay with me for a long time.  ”

This book is magnificent!

House Of Shadows is epic and glorious and a history lover’s dream. I can’t recommend it enough.”

Five Stars!

“For fans of Barbara Erskine and Kate Morton comes an unforgettable novel about three women and the power one lie can have over history.”

Once I started reading the House of Shadows I didn’t want to stop!

“This is a fascinating book. There is so much packed into its pages, a real page turner in each timeline, making me eager to find out what happened next. If this is representative of Nicola Cornick’s books there are plenty of others that I’m going to enjoy.”

House of Shadows is one of my favourite time slip novels this year.

“I am especially pleased to find that the eponymous House of Shadows, Ashdown House, which is at the heart of the story, actually exists, and the author has used her impeccable knowledge of this historic house and its past to bring alive a story which is rich in history and alive with intrigue. Best enjoyed with a pot of light Darjeeling and sumptuous millefeuille ..”

9/10

“‘House of Shadows’ is a real page-turner; a captivating historical romance with a fascinating element of mystery added to it. I really enjoyed it and definitely recommend it to any historical romance fans!”

Five stars!

“This was one of the most fascinating books I have read in a long time! Nicola gets the balance between history and modern times just right!”

Five Stars!

“A beautiful story set in 3 timescales, starting in the 1600’s, then 1800’s and up to the present day. It really is beautifully written and truly atmospheric.”

House of Shadows delivers all that it promises

“For fans of Barbara Erskine and Kate Morton comes an unforgettable novel about three women and the power one lie can have over history. A spirited quest, compelling couples from the past and present, all connected...House of Shadows delivers all that it promises.”