Book Review: The Splendour Falls by Susanna Kearsley
Emily Braden has lost her faith in romantic love and fairy tale endings, but she does love a good story. When her cousin Harry, a renowned historian who tends to be a bit flaky when it comes to reliability, invites her to accompany him on a research trip, she’s hesitant to accept. But clearly, everyone else in her family thinks she needs a bit of excitement, so she reluctantly agrees to meet him in Chinon, France — for a trip that turns out to be the opposite of routine or ordinary.
Centuries earlier, young Queen Isabelle was besieged at the Chinon chateau by enemies of her husband King John, and rumor has it that Isabelle’s treasure is still hidden somewhere within the tunnels under the town. Not only that, but in the more recent history of World War II, a second treasure was supposedly hidden after an ill-fated romance ended in tragedy. Now the myths surrounding both treasures impact Chinon’s townspeople as well as the tourists staying at Emily’s hotel — and an accidental death just may turn out to be a clue in some sinister happenings, all of which tie back to the history of Chinon itself.
The Splendour Falls was originally published in 1995, and was just reissued this month with a beautiful new cover to match the author’s most recent books. I’m a big fan of Susanna Kearsley, and I rank her novels The Winter Sea, The Rose Garden, and The Firebird among my favorite books.
Sadly, while interesting, The Splendour Falls just isn’t in the same league as some of these others. The plot of The Splendour Falls has a meandering feel to it. Things happen, and Emily is carried along by plans and events, but it’s not until quite late in the book that the plot takes on any sense of urgency. At that point, the book shifts gears and becomes a mystery, with danger lurking around every corner and Emily’s life possibly on the line. But until then, we just follow Emily on her travels, as she meets other hotel guests, explores Chinon, and wonders about what’s going on in everyone else’s life.
Emily herself is a bit of a cipher. We know she’s 29, that she’s lost her trust in the permanence of love and marriage after her parents’ divorce, and that she’s afraid of caves and enclosed spaces. What does she do for a living? Well, something with her family’s business, but it’s not clear what (and doesn’t seem important). No career interests or passions are ever mentioned.
There’s a love story in The Splendour Falls, but I didn’t find it convincing in the slightest. We know who Emily’s love interest is because she describes her first sight of him in quite epic tones, but she barely spends any time with the guy and I didn’t get a sense of any true chemistry between the two — certainly no more of a connection than Emily has with any of the other hotel residents whom she befriends.
The Splendour Falls does boast a beautiful sense of place. The town of Chinon is intricately described, so that I felt the narrow, winding streets and dramatic views really lived and breathed in the pages of the book. More than anything, reading The Splendour Falls made me desperately want to book a trip to the Loire Valley, stat!
It’s disappointing when a book by a beloved author doesn’t live up to expectations. In this case, I’m reminding myself that The Splendour Falls is actually from much earlier in the author’s career, and perhaps that’s why it doesn’t have the romantic magic or sweeping grandeur of her later books. I’m still glad to have read it — but for anyone looking for a first experience with Susanna Kearsley’s beautiful writing, I’d recommend starting elsewhere.
Title: The Splendour Falls
Author: Susanna Kearsley
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication date: January 14, 2014 (originally published 1995)
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Adult contemporary