In its scope, The Seven Sisters by Lucinda Riley reminds me of Eighties family mega-stories, paperbacks as thick as doorstops. This is the first in a series; the first five are already published. I recommend suspending your ‘instinct for the literal’ and throwing yourself into the world of the book. Some of the story set-up seems unrealistic – unbelievable wealth, mysterious father, beautiful adopted sisters – this is not a normal world. But I quickly became caught up in the historical story.
Pa Salt has died suddenly; he is the fabulously wealthy, secretive, reclusive adoptive father to six sisters whose origins are a mystery. Only when he has gone do they realise they should have asked him for information. Each of the sisters is given a clue and a letter. Also in the envelope is a triangular-shaped tile. The Seven Sisters is the story of the eldest D’Aplièse sister. Maia’s clue is a map reference that takes her to a crumbling mansion in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil where she meets an enigmatic elderly woman.
The book came alive for me with the story, eighty years earlier, of Izabela Rosa Bonifacio. Izabela, daughter of a nouveau riche coffee merchant in Rio, is facing an arranged marriage. Desperate to see more of the world before she settles down to a stifling life of marriage to a husband she doesn’t love, she persuades her father and fiancé to allow her to travel to Paris with her friend, Maria Elisa, daughter of architect Heitor da Silva Costa. This section of the novel enthralled me; the design and sculpting of the Cristo sculpture for the top of the Corvocado mountain, all based on historical fact.
I connected with Izabela in a way I didn’t with Maia. Maia uncovers the story of Izabela with the help of Brazilian author Floriano Quintelas, whose latest novel Maia has translated into French. In the course of her research, Maia must face the shadows of her own past, her regrets and shame, in order to move on. I enjoyed Izabela’s story but at the back of my mind I queried its relevance to Maia; Izabela was too old be her mother. I missed a direct connection to Maia and this frequently took me out of the world of the story.
That connection does come but as the story finished I was left with almost as many questions as at the beginning. The last chapter is devoted to the second sister, Ally, with new mysteries for the second book in the series.