Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Secrets of Saffron Hall by Clare Marchant

You would think that as a seasoned reader I would be impervious to a great cover but this book is proof that I am not. I think I took one look at the cover and I had to have it. I did realise that in addition to a gorgeous cover (check), it was dual timeline (check) and also that it featured an old house with secrets (check check).

When Amber returns to her grandfather's home, Saffron Hall, it is in theory to catalogue his massive book collection. It actuality, it is a place that she is retreating to because of the grief she feels at losing her stillborn daughter, hiding away from friends and also her husband.

Saffron Hall has a tower that has always been locked and that no one has entered for generations. No one even knows where the key is. When they discover that the tower needs urgent work done to make it safe, one of the builders gives Amber a book that he finds. It is a book of hours that has been locked in the tower for centuries.

The beautiful illustrated book belonged to Eleanor, a young woman who was married off to the owner of what became Saffron Hall after the death of her father. She takes with her crocus bulbs which were given to her by the brothers at the local abbey as her only dowry. In addition to taking on the responsibilities as lady of the house, Eleanor becomes mother figure to her new step daughter. She also plants her bulbs and soon is producing quality saffron. Her merchant husband, Greville, is a man who is determined to make his mark at court. He has attached himself to local nobility and his cause and wealth is certainly aided by the quality of the saffron that Eleanor is growing. As an aside, I always associate saffron with Middle Eastern food so it really surprised me that it would thrive in England, but even today it is grown there.

There are two problems though. Eleanor and her family are staunchly Catholic in a period when that is a dangerous thing to be, especially seeing the court in question is that of Henry VIII. There is also the question of who Greville is associated with and what happens when you align yourself to the wrong person at court.

As readers we get to see Eleanor as she lives her increasingly fragile life, but Amber is looking back through the centuries as she reads the book, trying to solve the mystery of what happened to Eleanor, and to unravel what it is the common link between the two women, despite the differences between the 1500s and 2000s. I do think there could have been an epilogue to help the reader find out what happened after the end of the book, but having said that Amber would never have known so maybe it was fitting that we also didn't. The historical timeline was the stronger of the two for me, although that is true most of the time when I read dual timeline books.

When I requested this, I don't recall noticing that the book was set in the Tudor period. Whilst I used to read a lot of books set in this period, I got all Tudored out years ago so now it is quite rare for me to choose to read one now. Luckily I enjoyed this debut novel, especially because while the events that were happening in the court of Henry VIII shaped the lives of the characters, the story was not centred there. I will be keen to read whatever comes next from this author!

Rating 4/5

Goodreads summary:

Two women. Five centuries apart.
One life-changing secret about to be unearthed…

New bride Eleanor impresses her husband by growing saffron, a spice more valuable than gold. His reputation in Henry VIII’s court soars – but fame and fortune come at a price, for the king’s favour will not last forever…

When Amber discovers an ancient book in her grandfather’s home at Saffron Hall, the contents reveal a dark secret from the past. As she investigates, so unravels a forgotten tragic story and a truth that lies much closer to home than she could have imagined…

An enchanting historical novel about love and hope in dangerous times, perfect for fans of Lucinda Riley and Kathryn Hughes.


  1. I liked the story too and the back and forth. I like stories about houses anyway.

  2. Adding to Goodreads - check.

    This sounds great and I loved your review. Maybe I should re-activate my Netgalley....

    1. I don't know. Netgalley is great but it also starts to dictate your reading a lot!

  3. That’s a larger gap than is usual for a dual t8meline book. Thanks for sharing your thoughts

    1. that's an interesting observation. I tend to notice more when the gap is close rather than further away.

  4. Interesting - I don't I've read that many Tudor books except those that are fictionalized stories about the wives of Henry VIII!

    1. Exactly! There are a few around but the vast majority are centered on Henry and his wives or his daughters.

  5. Replies
    1. It was interesting, especially from a time period perspective.