Shadows of the Past
By Carmen Stefanescu
When Anne and Neil leave on a one-week holiday hoping to reconcile after a two-year separation, little do they know that destiny has other plans for them. Their discovery of human bones and a bejeweled cross in the hollow of a tree open the door to the supernatural realm and the anguished life of Genevieve, a nun from medieval England.
Can Anne save her relationship and help Genevieve find her eternal rest?
The twists and turns in this paranormal tale keep the reader guessing up to the end and weave themselves together into a quest to rekindle love. (Synopsis from Goodreads)
Shadows of the Past tells two stories: of 15th century nun Genevieve, and 90’s business-woman Anne. The ways in which these separate stories interact and weave together, and the similarity between past lives, was intriguing. The women’s stories and their romances mirrored each other, but at the same time were different enough that the characters felt like separate people. It was interesting to see one relationship blossoming while another was tentatively trying to reform after a betrayal. The idea of the evil forest and the haunting passed down into future lives was also very promising.
However, I didn’t really get on with this book. I struggled with some of the characters; I found Anne and Neil a little dull and underdeveloped, and I didn’t really believe in their relationship. We were told a lot that they loved each other, and that Neil is perfect for Anne, but I didn’t see enough evidence of this to help me understand why she forgave him.
I also found the abbess’ character a little odd. Yes, she was greedy and selfish, and a direct threat to Genevieve, but her ‘evil’ nature was a bit confusing to me. She was using some kind of magic up in her room in the abbey, which seemed to be tied to her sexuality. According to the other nuns, this dark magic was very sinister, but we never really saw the effects of it. Most of the time she just seemed to like to eat good food and enjoy herself, and so resented and defied the strict rules of the abbey. I understand that this is reason enough for nuns to be against her in the 15th century, but some of the over-moralising against it, particularly from the modern characters, made me uncomfortable. The abbess is a horrible person for trying to seduce a priest, but the main character, a nun, falls in love with the very same priest and that's alright? Both the abbess and Genevieve have knowledge of witchcraft, but the abbess uses her powers for... well, I'm not sure what exactly, but it make snakes appear on her head (so we hear from one of the nuns, and never actually see), so obviously her powers are evil? I also really didn’t like the suggestion that two nuns’ sexual experimentation together might be seen as a mark of how much the evil abbess had corrupted them. Again, this fits with the attitude of the nuns, but were the readers supposed to agree? I hope not!
Genevieve herself was the most developed character, and in general I was interested in what would happen to her. The historical chapters were the better parts of the novel, but were unfortunately spoiled a little now and then by some quite jarring anachronisms. Some elements were obviously researched, but others clearly weren’t. For example, asps are not a danger to watch out for while hiking up mountains in England. The way characters spoke also felt a little off, for both 15th century and 1990’s England, and I found the writing in general to be a little awkward and stilted. This made the book hard-going for me at points.
Despite some intriguing aspects, this book wasn’t for me.
Thank you to the author for providing a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.