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Book Review: The House at Ladywell by Nicola Slade

A surprise bequest, a cryptic benediction, and a box of letters–Freya Gibson is in the middle of a life-changing mystery. As the personal assistant to successful novelist Patrick Underwood, Freya never takes a vacation. She believes herself content to be surrounded by the hustle and bustle of London, keeping Patrick on track and reigning in her newly discovered and completely uncertain feelings for her boss. When Freya is given a house by a distant relative she has never met, she isn’t sure how to handle it, and with a clause preventing her from immediately selling the relic, Freya has no choice but to visit the home, still fairly certain she will rid herself of the property-that is until she sets foot in the ancient home in Ramalley. With Patrick gone on a business trip to the US, Freya decides to spend a week getting to know her new home and the village nearby. She quickly decides she wants to keep the enigmatic house with the enormous stone mantle, former church windows, and hand-carved hares, but as she falls in love with the house, she uncovers evidence that Violet, her cousin and the former owner, knew a great deal more about Freya than Freya knows about herself. With each step closer to her truth, the house seems to draw her closer in a protective grip and maybe give her a chance at a new future. 

In this frame story, the real gem is the historical background for the house and well. Lovers of history will relish the retelling of so many stories from various time periods that all shaped and were shaped by the area. From an adolescent Roman deserter to a broken-hearted WWI soldier, the stories not only show the residents of the area but also the tapestry of England at each telling. Through centuries of time, the well at Ladywell drew the sick, the needy, and those looking to begin again, and just like the modern protagonist, each time it brought renewal and hope. Freya’s story usually shadows the scattered historical episodes that often explain some aspect of the house or village. Through the historical details and period dialogue, the short excerpts are just as rich as the main plot. 

Reinvention and rebuilding are major components of both Freya’s and the house’s story. Damaged by an abusive relationship and the death of both of her parents, Freya discovers as much about herself as she does about Ladywell through her investigation of her new home. While searching through her cousin’s belongings, she finds more questions than answers, and she must search deep within herself to find the strength to pursue the truth of her parentage as well as the means by which her birth was arranged. As she muddles through her sense of wonder and disbelief, she learns to lean more on the support of Patrick, who needs Freya as much as she needs him. Just like the house, their love is both new and comfortably worn. She comes to grip with the need to reconcile her past, embracing the stony parts, and learning from it, just like the history of all those at Ladywell. She finds solace and strength in the worn floors and crumbling ceilings and allows the healing “waters” of the well to wash her clean. In restoring “the balance” of her home, she restores the balance in her own life.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

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