Natalie Meg Evans’ award winning first novel THE DRESS THIEF made a huge impression on me when it first came out in 2014. I bought it during my stay in Paris that same year. I can still see myself in the late hours of the night devouring every word of this glamourous tale of a girl who wants to make it big in the haute couture world during the 1930s and does but with big consequences. It was the perfect book for a perfect trip. Fast forward it to 2016 and voilà, a third novel called A GOWN OF THORNS (Bookouture). It’s actually more of a novella (around 250 pages) but who gives a flying whoop as long as it delivers the goods, and it does but with a few minuses along the way.
Our heroine this time around is twentysomething Shauna who finds herself in the southwest of France in the middle of summer taking care of two little brats (not really, but never have been keen on children) while brooding about a perfect biomedical position she had been passed over in London. While exploring the majestic Chateau and vineyards of Chemignac, she finds herself in a tower one day where she discovers and slips into a beautiful vintage silk gown, which unleashes a chain of events that eventually catches up with her. Add a hunky master of the vineyards, an English manipulative rival, an ill-tempered old fool, and a subplot involving the ravage of WWII and you’ve got yourself one well-written and thoroughly researched treat that also holds a touch of the supernatural.
The first thing that came to mind while reading this piece of fiction is how gothic it all played out: an abandoned tower, a presence in the window, strange noises… Suffice to say, it got my tail wagging. But what really got me super-excited is the flashback subplot involving Yvonne, the English spy secretly hidden in that same tower during WWII’s invasion of the Nazis in France. Her attraction to Henri the land owner (hunky’s granddad), her relationship with her wounded colleagues (also hidden) and the discovery of the pivotal gown make for a far more fascinating read. So much so that she could easily have been the author’s main heroine. And fortunately, she does become so during the book second half. Well almost. We still get to follow all the drama involving Shauna in the present-day. As much engaging as it is already, it’s Yvonne’s storyline that really gives A GOWN OF THORNS its strength.
Moreover, though there is a lot packed into one book (a hundred pages more would have been just perfect), the overall delivery is as addictive, if not the perfect antidote to all of those just too long-winded tales that never give up—sort of like this sentence.
Natalie Meg Evans newest oeuvre is a cross between Susan Isaacs’ SHINING THROUGH, TV’s Gossip Girl, and every gothic romance novel of the ‘70s. You’ll definitely want to jump into the story of love, revenge, and heroism. And as a bonus, you’ll also get a crash course in wine-making and WWII. So dig in and ride the wave of past and present settings and discover what it really feels like to be caught in A GOWN OF THORNS.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the chance to read this novel in exchange for an honest review.
Until next post—Martin