From the desk of Katie Patchell:
The highwayman: A mysterious figure riding on cloudless nights, a man whose purpose goes beyond treasure for wealth’s sake. There’s something about the highwayman that captures our imagination and has done so for centuries. Is it his inevitable strength and beauty (if he’s the novel’s hero)? Is it because he’s misunderstood by those who know him within the pages, so our sympathy reaches out? Or is it because he’s a figure in the vein of Robin Hood, a romantic symbol of a freer, wilder, more dangerous age? In Abigail Wilson’s 2019 debut, In the Shadow of Croft Towers, a masked highwayman appears once again, this time with gray eyes narrowed in laughter behind his mask, and a quest in his heart for something stronger than diamonds but as insubstantial as the mist: The truth.
“I often wonder what my life would have been like if I had never learned the truth. I wouldn’t have set off as I did for Croft Towers. I never would have met him.” (1)
Sybil Delafield is well-educated but an orphan, and in a world tailored for men, her opportunities to make a way for herself are limited. When her mysterious benefactor’s funds run out and a strange message arrives to seek answers about her parentage at the unknown Croft Towers, Sybil sees no reason to decline the seemingly random offer to work as companion to the owner of the very same Croft Towers. In fact, she welcomes it. Even a highwayman – especially one smokey-eyed, confusing specimen who refuses to harm or steal anything from the carriage yet makes them all stand in the rain as he searches for something – cannot stop her from finding out once and for all who her parents are.
Unfortunately for Sybil, more questions – not answers – materialize at Croft Towers. Why is it that the charming Mr. Cantrell attaches himself to her, despite her low status? What is the secret that tortures Mrs. Chalcroft and why does she ask Sybil to deliver secret letters under cover of darkness? And why, oh why, does Sybil find herself in the same house with her employer’s moody godson, the man who only she knows is the highwayman?
When rumors of a traitor to the Crown swirl around the foundations of Croft Towers, Sybil must decide who to trust in a house where everyone has their own hidden past that they’d risk everything to protect. In the process, she might even find out who she is and where she came from…if she manages to stay alive, that is.
“People are not always as they first appear. Moments of our own journeys seem meaningless at one point, then later of great consequence. It is difficult to know if you are making the right decisions, no matter how hard you work to do so.” (148)
In the Shadow of Croft Towers is a novel brimming with mysteries. Even when I thought I knew the truth about a character, they (and their writer) pulled the rug out from under my feet. In this case, I was happy to fall flat on my face. The pages crackle with energy and nothing is written that doesn’t add to the story. The plot sped as fast as a highwayman’s horse to the very last pages (pun very much intended).
Abigail Wilson’s writing style was as gripping as Sybil’s mission. She filled this novel with descriptions of nature. Rather than detract from the pacing, each built up the atmosphere wonderfully. Tree branches scraping against one another in the chill fall breeze, rain mingling with mist, the smell of woods and smoky fires…even now, days after reading, I can still hear, see, and smell the world of Croft Towers.
From beginning to Epilogue, I found this book exactly my cup of tea. For me, the pros are many. The cons? Minor. All loose ends were tied up by the end, but the reveals flashed past so quickly in the final pages that it felt like I was on a dizzying roller-coaster. Since the characters were so good and the results of their lies and secret identities so earth-shattering, I wished for at least twenty more pages.
With the best, most noble highwayman I’ve ever met in a novel’s pages and a daring, smart heroine, In the Shadow of Croft Towers is a debut novel not to be missed. Perhaps you too can find the secrets hiding within the reaches of Croft Towers…but fair warning: you, like Sybil, will need to look behind every curtain, every smiling face, every shadow.
5 out of 5 Regency Stars
In the Shadow of Croft Towers: A Novel, by Abigail Wilson
Thomas Nelson (January 15, 2019)
Trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook (336) pages
Cover image courtesy of Thomas Nelson © 2019; text Katie Patchell © 2020, Austenprose.com