Present Day – We first meet Alison Bannister as she is walking past an art gallery in Marlborough, Wiltshire. She spies a portrait – a portrait of a woman who she is very familiar with. It is a likeness of Mary Seymour.
Alison enters the gallery and encounters an old love, Adam. Ten years previously they had had a relationship. A relationship that Alison had ended despite her feelings for Adam. For Alison has a secret that she cannot share with him… she was born in the 1540s.
Because Alison needs to find out more about the provenance of the portrait, she becomes enmeshed in Adam’s life once more. The portrait holds the key to a puzzle that Alison has spent years trying to decipher. It might tell her the whereabouts of her son, Arthur.
“We made a bargain, she and I. She helped me to escape; I helped her to find her son. It is entirely possible to bargain with an enemy if there is something that you both want and so it proved. Thus we were bound together through time.”
Wiltshire, 1557 – We meet Mary Seymour who is living at Wolf Hall. A distant cousin named Alison Banestre is sent to live there and share a room with Mary. The girls, ages ten and fourteen, did not get along. The beautiful Alison was more vivacious and cunning than the plain and more solitary Mary. Mary spent her time in the forest behind the garden gate. There she spends many hours wandering at will. Mary is never truly alone though, she has Darrell. She communicates with Darrell via her thoughts making the reader assume at first that he is just her imaginary friend. For if ever a girl needed a friend, it is Mary Seymour. Prone to having visions, she makes those around her apprehensive – they fear she is a witch.
“I saw visions when I did not wish to and when I tried to call them up I saw nothing.”
The young Alison lost her family to the pox when she was just six years of age. Now, hardened by life’s cruelties, she has come to live at Wolf Hall. She is seduced by her distant cousin Edward and bore him an illegitimate son when she was just fifteen. He discarded her and took her infant son away.
“A man may chastise his wife just as he would a dog or a servant.”
After a dramatic death at Wolf Hall, both Alison and Mary are sent to Middlecote, only Alison escapes on the way. Mary, not so lucky, lives for several years with the Fenner Family at Middlecote Hall. There she is the companion to young Eleanor Fenner. There she suffers under the influence of Lady Fenner and her cruel rogue of a son, Will Fenner.
Alison slips forward in time to the present day. She has done it before and now that she wants to escape her banishment from Wolf Hall, she tries it again. Only this time, she cannot find a way to return. And return she must. She has to find her baby son…
My first read of 2019 – and what a read it was! A joyful amalgam of historical fiction, time travel, and love story, “The Phantom Tree” was a compelling tale. My first time reading Nicola Cornick, but definitely not my last. The author brought the past to life with vividly rendered, well-researched prose that highlighted both the positive and the negative aspects of life in the sixteenth century.
The story is told via two timelines, one in the sixteenth century and one in the present day, which are linked inextricably. The premise being that time is not linear, but deeply layered.
A ‘time-slip’ novel, this book will appeal greatly to lovers of Diana Gabaldon’s ‘Outlander’ series, as well as most other lovers of historical fiction. Yes, it makes you suspend belief with the time-travel and the telepathic communication, but the author incorporates this SO well with the dual story-lines that the reader becomes fully immersed in the narrative.
I am now eager to search out more of this author’s work. Highly recommended.
I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from Graydon House Books via NetGalley. This review is my way of saying thank-you.
Read an article the author wrote entitled “Historical Novels: Fact vs. Fiction“
Nicola Cornick is a writer and historian who was born and brought up in the north of England. Nicola developed a passion for history at an early age and nurtured it through reading and watching BBC costume dramas with her grandmother. She went on to study Medieval History, graduated from London University with an honours degree and worked for many years in academia until she gave it all up to be a full time author. Later she returned to college in Oxford to take a masters degree in History.
She now writes dual timeframe novels inspired by the history and legends of her local area.