Title: The Seven Sisters
Author: Lucinda Riley
Review: The Seven Sisters is the first book in a new series of seven novels based on seven sisters. I was really excited to learn that Lucinda Riley had embarked on this ambitious project – seven novels in total, and all about the same family. The seven sisters of the title are the D’Apliese sisters; there are actually only six of them, so that’s the first mystery of this story. These women were all adopted as babies and brought up by the incredibly wealthy Pa Salt, on a beautiful estate in Geneva, Switzerland. Pa Salt has always been something of a mystery, a wealthy single man bringing up six beautiful adopted daughters, with no partner, just his trusted housekeeping staff to assist him. None of the girls really know how Pa Salt made his fortune, but each of them have had a happy and full life, they are loved and they love each other.
The sisters are summoned home when Pa Salt suddenly and unexpectedly dies. Just like his life, Pa’s death and the arrangements after it have been precisely organised and each sister is left a letter and a clue to their true heritage. This first story is Maia, the eldest sister’s story. This first novel introduces us to Maia d’Apliese, the eldest of the six girls. Growing up on Pa Salt’s estate, Atlantis, by Lake Geneva in Switzerland, Maia and her sisters have been loved and cared for by their adoptive father and his housekeeper, Marina, but know almost nothing about their own origins.
When Pa Salt dies suddenly, the sisters – all now adults with lives and careers of their own – gather at Atlantis to remember the man who had been a father to them all. To their surprise, they discover that Pa Salt has left each of them an envelope containing clues to their heritage and pointing them in the direction of their place of birth.
Maia discovers that her roots are in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and she travels there to the crumbling mansion that appears to be connected to her. It is in Rio that Maia’s story really begins to come together and Lucinda Riley has cleverly weaved Maia’s modern day story together with that of her great-grandmother Izabela Bonafacio. Also woven through this incredible novel is the story of how the statue of Christ the Redeemer was constructed, first in pieces in Paris, and then transported by boat to Rio where it was built piece by piece on top of the Corcovado Mountain.
The two cities; Paris and Rio are exquisitely drawn, the contrast between these two places is amazing, yet both of them are tantalising, and reading about them made me want to visit both of them. Izabel’s time spent in the Montmarte area of Paris, populated by the bohemian artist community comes alive on the pages, with famous and familiar names taking centre stage. The contrast of Rio – the old, the new, the wealth, the poverty is exceptionally well done too.
Maia and Izabela’s stories are strikingly similar, with a theme of love and loss running through them both, and as Maia discovers more about her birth family history, she also realises more about herself, finally admitting to herself that some secrets can never be kept forever, and that she does not have to pay for one mistake for the rest of her life.
The Seven Sisters is a big book with over 600 pages in the hardback edition I read, but I never felt that it was too long. I was drawn into both main characters’ stories, so I didn’t really notice the length of the book. The experiences of Maia and Izabela are very different in some ways – Maia, in 2007, has freedom and opportunites that Izabela could only dream of – but there are also some similarities between their two stories. Both women are hiding secrets, both have made mistakes and both have lost someone close to them. Of the two characters, I preferred Maia, but both storylines interested me. I also liked the setting – or settings, as there is more than one! Some of the 1920s chapters are set in Paris where Izabela spends some time among the Bohemian artists and writers in Montparnasse, but my favourites were the sections set in Rio. I know very little about Brazil and its history, so I enjoyed going back in time and learning about the construction of Christ the Redeemer, as well as the modern day chapters in which Maia sees some of the city’s famous sights.
The Seven Sisters is moving and absorbing, and I was absolutely transfixed by it. I really love the concept of this series; it’s ambitious and something different. I’m already looking forward to the second in the series, which will be Ally’s story. Ally’s personality seems to be very different from Maia’s and I can’t wait to get to know her better. Lucinda Riley is incredibly talented, her storytelling is precise and thrilling, and she artfully combines the modern day story with events from history and has created something incredibly special. I’m desperate to read the next in the series.
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