Susan Stokes-Chapman, "Pandora" (Harper Perennial, 2023)


It is the very end of the eighteenth century, and Pandora Blake—known as Dora—lives at the edge of London society. Despite the opposition of her obnoxious uncle Hezekiah and his live-in housekeeper/mistress Lottie, neither of whom has much interest in their orphaned charge, Dora has a dream. She wants to sketch jewelry designs that will appeal to the beauties of the haut ton, in the process earning Dora a livelihood sufficient to free her from her family’s antique shop, now in decline due to Hezekiah’s mismanagement. To that end, Dora spends hours in her attic bedchamber drawing with only her beloved magpie, Hermes, for company.

Even before we meet Dora in this enchanting yet troubling tale, we have encountered an unnamed diver bent on retrieving the cargo from a scuttered ship somewhere in the Mediterranean. It soon becomes clear that the mysterious cargo includes a massive Greek vase (more properly, a pithos, used for storing wine or grain), which Hezekiah acquires, together with a shipment of Greek pottery. Dora at first believes this is an attempt to save the store, but her uncle’s behavior raises questions—not least whether he obtained the pithos legally. To find out what Hezekiah has in mind, Dora enlists the help of a bookbinder, Edward Lawrence, setting them off on a journey that will lead deep into Dora’s past.

Pandora (Harper Perennial, 2023) is a novel of many layers, as intricately plotted as Dora’s jewelry designs, which seem to have inspired the book’s gorgeous cover. The characters and setting are Dickensian, yet the themes are modern and the reconsideration of the mythical story of Pandora’s Box rings true. Definitely a book worth reading.

Susan Stokes-Chapman lives in Northwest Wales, endlessly pestered by a pair of very beautiful (and very naughty) British Shorthair cats named Byron and Brontë while she works on her fiction. Pandora is her debut novel.

C. P. Lesley is the author of two historical fiction series set during the childhood of Ivan the Terrible and three other novels. Her latest book, Song of the Storyteller, appeared in January 2023.

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C. P. Lesley

C. P. Lesley is the author of two historical fiction series set during the childhood of Ivan the Terrible and four other novels. Her latest book, The Merchant's Tale, co-written with P.K. Adams, appeared in November 2023.

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