Review by Nicola Smith – Short Book and Scribes
Publisher: Trapeze 16th September 2021
ISBN : 978-1409192213 HB
The Shadowing has a very interesting and appealing (for the reader, at least) setting. Hester travels from her home in Bristol to Southwell in Nottinghamshire to investigate the death of her sister in the workhouse there. I’ve visited the workhouse and I found that Rhiannon Ward really brought it to life in this book.
Hester is 22 and fairly naïve to be travelling alone in the 1800s. She comes from a strict Quaker background and her clothes immediately identify her as such. She gets into some quite dangerous situations in her pursuit of the truth about Mercy and the child that she was carrying when she entered the workhouse. It’s a really taut and absorbing storyline which kept my interest and built up to quite the ending.
What sets Ward’s books out are the side plots of spirituality. Hester sees what she calls shadowings, spirits who seem to accompany her in her day to day life, sometimes with a sinister sense of foreboding and other times a little more benign. This aspect felt plausible and very well-written.
I loved the descriptions of life in the small town. To me it felt like the workhouse loomed over them, and it and its inhabitants felt very real. I could really imagine life in Southwell from this book and it wasn’t hard to imagine how it must have felt to have to enter the workhouse. Hester gets to know the local innkeeper, Matthew, and his two staff, Joan and Annie, and I enjoyed the relationships she forged with them in particular.
The author has weaved a historical tale that felt fresh. Hester makes some shocking discoveries during her time in Southwell and undergoes quite a transformation from a meek young woman to one determined to learn the truth and put right the wrongs that she unearths. The Shadowing is an atmospheric gothic read that might just send a shiver down your spine. I enjoyed it very much.