Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Secrets in the Snow

Secrets in the Snow

Michaela MacColl
Historical Fiction
For ages 12 and up
Chronicle Books, 2016   ISBN: 978-1452133584

Though the English Channel is not a wide body of water it has nevertheless protected the British people from the ripple effects of the French Revolution. Of course, people across the country have heard about the Terror and know that countless French citizens have lost their lives under the blade of the guillotine. Many British men are now serving in His Majesty’s service, fighting against Napoleon’s armies and navy. Still, in the British countryside life goes on much as usual.

Jane and Cassandra Austen have recently arrived at Godmersham, their brother Edward’s house. When Edward was only twelve he was adopted by wealthy but childless relatives who “lacked only an heir to their fortune.” He now has a very comfortable life and is happy to invite his sisters to stay at his home. Jane fully expects to have a quiet time but she is not there long when she overhears a conversation between Edward and a man from the War Office that greatly distresses her. Apparently government agents think that Jane’s cousin, Eliza, the Comtesse De Feuillide, is a possible French spy, or at the very least she is fraternizing with people they consider suspect. They have intercepted a letter that was sent to her that they think is in code. Jane thinks the whole idea is preposterous. Just last year Eliza’s French husband was guillotined and it is unthinkable to image that she would ever support the French government. Edward is encouraged to invite Eliza to his home so that he can find out if Eliza is indeed a spy gathering intelligence about the British military.

Just that morning Jane wrote to Eliza inviting her to come and visit Godmerhsam. Now, having heard about Edward’s plans, she writes to her cousin once more asking her not to come and suggesting that they meet elsewhere.

The next day Jane gets a letter from Eliza, and the day after that Jane leaves Edward’s house in Eliza’s carriage to meet her cousin at an inn at Sevenoaks. On the way Jane is accosted by a man who appears to be a highwayman, but then he demands to know the whereabouts of the Comtesse. Jane refuses to tell him and he allows her to continue her journey. The whole business is very odd indeed and Jane does not know what to think.

At the inn Jane tells Eliza all about the conversation that she overheard. Her cousin cannot believe that anyone would think that she is a spy. She is far too fond of life’s pleasures to worry about politics, and she certainly feels no fondness for the French regime that murdered her husband. Jane then tells Eliza what she can remember about the supposedly coded letter. In it a former servant in France asks Eliza for assistance. The letter is signed Rene Geroux. Eliza is shocked when she hears the identity of the letter writer. Rene Geroux was her maid’s husband and he was executed at around the same time that Eliza’s husband was killed.

The next morning Eliza and Jane leave the inn and go to Jane’s family home in Steventon. Soon after they arrive a neighbor comes to call, bringing her nephew with her. The young man is a supercilious fellow who is barely civil to Jane and her family. Jane, not being the kind of young woman who will tolerate annoying young men, firmly puts him in his place. While they are chatting Jane sees something out of the window, and when she goes to investigate she discovers that the highwayman of the day before is there. He desperately wants to talk to Eliza but will not come into the house like a civilized person. Instead, he gives Jane a letter to give to Eliza. He wants to meet her at the ball that is being held at the Assembly Rooms the following evening. Neither Jane nor Eliza have any idea who the man is or what he wants, but they are determined to find out. They never imagine that what they are going to discover will rock their world and bring the suffering of the French Revolution into their lives.

This delicious historical fiction novel gives readers a taste for what Jane Austen’s life might have been like. Fact and fiction are woven together seamlessly to great effect, and as the mystery builds we begin to appreciate how singular and special Jane is.