Saturday, May 18, 2024

Restoration-era intrigue and sisterhood in Nicola Cornick's multi-period The Other Gwyn Girl

Raise your hand if you realized royal mistress Nell Gwyn had an older sister. If not, you’re not alone. Nicola Cornick has a knack for taking interesting women from history’s sidelines, digging into the limited facts on their lives, and weaving them into compelling dual-narrative plots.

In this highly diverting romantic caper, Rose Gwyn has gotten herself in a muddle. It’s 1671, and she’s been languishing in London’s grimy Marshalsea Prison for six weeks after being arrested as an accessory to her highwayman husband John’s theft of the crown jewels. Pregnant and despondent – and illiterate – Rose asks her jailer to scribe a note to her sister Nell, theatrical darling and Charles II’s beloved, begging to be freed. Nell comes to her rescue but has motives beyond sibling affection. Perpetually worried about money after the sisters’ impoverished childhood, Nell had plans for the stolen jewels herself, but they have mysteriously disappeared.

The parallel narrative, set today, involves librarian Jess Yates, forced to relaunch her life after her fraudster ex-boyfriend’s deceptions. She lands in rural Berkshire, working as housekeeper for her sister Tavy, a celebrity influencer whose latest reality TV series follows the restoration of “Fortune Hall,” a manor where legends about the Gwyn family still circulate.

Compared with Rose’s Restoration-era tale of dangerous conspiracies and betrayals, Jess’s story could have felt lightweight and ignorable, and it’s to Cornick’s credit that it isn’t. With the help of Ethan, a historic building consultant, Jess begins exploring the house’s shadowy centuries-old history; fans of Lauren Belfer’s Ashton Hall will enjoy her research journey. One of the novel’s love stories develops too fast, a small flaw in a well-constructed tale of two independent women and the complexities of sisterhood. This story stands alone, but the author’s fans will note cameos of characters and places from her earlier novels.

The Other Gwyn Girl was published by the UK's Boldwood Books in March; I reviewed it initially for May's Historical Novels Review. For US readers, I just noticed that the book is 99 cents on Kindle (not sure how long this will last!), and Amazon Prime members can read it for free in their Prime library.


  1. Katharine O11:52 AM

    I've read Cornick's "House of Shadows" and "The Phantom Tree" - I liked the latter better. This one sounds good - thanks for the review!

    1. I've read the two you mentioned also and am not sure which I like better. This one isn't a time-slip in the same sense as the others, although there may be a ghost. Fun story, though!