Every once in a while, you run across a book that makes you want to skip work, stay up all night, and just…keep…reading. You can’t stop thinking about the characters and wondering what secrets are coming next. For me, Dark Angel by Sally Beauman was one of those books.
THE PLOT: The book follows three generatrions of an upper-class English family and the very disturbed little girl they adopt, and her effect on the entire family. The story is framed by the narrator, Victoria Cavendish, who relates the story of her family…including her godmother, Constance Shawcross. Ten-year-old Constance is adopted by the Cavendish family in 1910, and spends the next 60 years manipulating, twisting, and blackmailing; essentially wrecking the lives of her four adopted brothers and pretty much everyone else in the family. She torments each brother in a different way, chooses a husband that fractures the family, and ultimately becomes guardian to orphaned Victoria. She raises Victoria with love and ferocious jealousy, keeping Victoria from the man she loves and from forming a family that would take her from Constance.
The book also centers around an accident or murder that occurs in 1910. Is it a murder? And if so, who is the murderer? Everyone had motive; some had opportunity. But how did it happen?
MY TWO CENTS: It took me the first few chapters of Victoria’s searching for Constance in New York to really get into the book, but by the time it turned back to 1910, I was enthralled. Constance is a HIGHLY damaged child who becomes an unbalanced and sometimes dangerous adult. However, she’s also intelligent and sometimes likeable, and you pity her. You can’t help rooting for her and hoping she’s punished at the same time. Make no mistake: this book is VERY disturbing. There are descriptions of child rape, horrific death, kinky sex, pornography, suicide, pet trauma…basically anything you’d find in an original V.C. Andrews series (NOT the ghostwritten messes of recent years).
The relationship between Constance and her eventual husband also reminds me of Scarlet O’Hara and Rhett Butler. Constance marries a man who understands her, the only one who really gets what a malicious, scheming lunatic she is, and yet loves her all the same. But Constance’s love for someone else, plus all her issues, just keep the couple from ever really connecting and being happy. The reader sees the marriage breaking down and thinks, “If only they’d communicated at this moment…if only she’d said…if only he…” The reader becomes very emotionally involved in the narrative. You feel for every character.
A great portion of the action takes place in 1910, and then between 1914 and 1919, so the time period should be very attractive to Downton Abbey fans. You also see some of the “Upstairs, Downstairs” interaction between the family and their servants.
BOTTOM LINE: An absolutely enthralling book, well worth the read. Just be warned: this is a LONG book (800 pages in hard copy format), but you will not want to stop. Also, I’m glad I already have another Sally Beauman book to read, because I’m interested in checking out all her work.
TEACUP RATING: Definitely 5+ teacups. Even though I have the digital copy, I may also invest in a hard copy to have on hand. It’s just that good.
Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.