In the words of Marty Ambrose, author of Claire’s Last Secret, Claire Claremont is “an incredibly intriguing person in her own right–and a missing voice in historical fiction.” I, too, am delighted by missing voices in historical fiction, and I loved this historical mystery centering around a lover of Lord Byron. Claire is the stepsister of Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein. Mary is the lover of Percy Bysse Shelley and the mother of his sons. In the summer of 1816, Byron, Shelley, and both women spent time together in Geneva. It is this snatched bit of time that is the setting of Amrose’s novel. Claire lived life on her own terms and loved the married Byron freely, having his child and letting him go when he says he’s no longer in love with her.
The novel opens in 1873, when Claire is an old woman. She is visited by someone who wants to purchase her letters from Byron and Shelley in order to write a biography. That visit recalls all the emotions of the time, her passion for Byron, her determination to carry his child to term, her fear that someone was trying to kill her. It also opens a mystery about the fate of her daughter, Allegra. The narrative flashes back to that time, giving us wonderful details of the setting and time as well as brilliant snippets of the story ideas, conversation, and philosophies of the great writers.
The characters are vivid and well developed, with their assorted desires and fears, bad choices, and flawed relationships. The reader immediately bonds with young Claire and her passionate longing for Byron. It’s clear to the reader right away that Byron has moved on from Claire, and it’s a bit heart wrenching to watch her come to that realization as his baby grows inside her. The character of the doctor, John Polidori, is perfectly sinister and mysterious. Claire suspects he dislikes her and is trying to separate her from Byron, even encouraging her to abort the baby. This tension remains in the 1873 portions of the story, when again Claire fears for her life. With the help of her niece, Paula, Claire is determined to learn the truth of the events of the summer of 1816 and its aftermath.
This is the first book in a trilogy, and I strongly recommend having book two ready to go immediately after you finish Claire’s Last Secret. You won’t want to wait to keep reading.