Being a shallow soul, I hefted this substantial tome off the shelves because of the very cool cover and lugged it home, because the first couple of pages were evidently well written and intriguing. Would my slavish attraction to star-spattered covers pay off this time around?
Maia D’Aplièse and her sisters gather together at their childhood home of Atlantis – a fabulous, secluded castle situated on the shores of Lake Geneva – having been told that their beloved father, the elusive billionaire they call Pa Salt, has died. Maia and her sisters were all adopted by him as babies and, discovering he has already been buried at sea, each of them is handed a tantalising clue as to their true heritage – a clue which takes Maia across the world to a crumbling mansion in Jio de Janeiro in Brazil. Once there, she begins to put together the pieces of where her story began…
This sprawling saga has two narrative timelines. The first features Maia, eldest of six adopted sisters struggling to come to terms with the sudden death of their beloved father, aggravated by his odd request to be buried at sea without any family present. The second timeline delves back into the past as Maia discovers who her genetic family are and what befell her great-grandmother, grandmother and mother so that she ended up in an orphanage, being put up for adoption as a tiny baby.
I haven’t encountered Riley’s writing before, but it didn’t take long to realise I was in the experienced hands of a gifted storyteller who knows her craft. Interweaving two narratives throughout such a long book so the reader isn’t skimming one storyline to get to the other takes a significant amount of technical skill. And Riley manages to braid the two timelines together without any jarring or stuttering in the impressive pacing of this engrossing tale.
She also whisks the reader around the world. We start in luxurious surroundings on Lake Geneva, then we’re taken back to Rio in the 1920’s to the sumptuous life of coffee baron’s daughter Izabela Bonifacio and on to bohemian life in Paris during the same period. The historical plotline heavily features the creation of one of the most famous landmarks in the world – the huge statue of Christ the Redeemer, where Riley has managed to interleave fact and fiction very deftly.
The 600+ pages whizzed by as I became caught up in the plight of Izabela, humbly grateful I hadn’t been born a beautiful, rich young heiress at that particular time. Riley gives us a heartrending insight into her plight. It shows, once more, just how bleak women’s lives are when they aren’t permitted equal rights. During narrative twists and turns I waited to get impatient with Maia’s passive attitude to life… to become tired of Izabela’s struggle between heart and head… and it didn’t happen. Storylines that regularly have me switching off and putting a book down never to return, held me right to the end.
Did Riley succeed in corralling her wide-ranging narrative into a suitably satisfying ending? Oh yes – which is much trickier than it might seem, given that I would have also flung the book across the room in disgust if the conclusion had been too tritely satisfying.
The Seven Sisters is the start of a series, where Riley will be examining each of the sibling’s backstory and their reaction to Pa Salt’s unexpected demise and I will be eagerly looking out for the next one. If you tastes run to family sagas, complete with enjoyable backdrops and a dollop of historical detail, then this comes highly recommended.