This series was recommended to me by my BFF when J and I were heading for a weekend away last month and I wanted something to read that I could lose myself in. The Seven Sisters fit the bill very well.
A little background
The Seven Sisters is a (planned) 7 book series, of which the first 4 books are currently published. Each of the first 6 books centres around one of 6 sisters, all adopted by the mysterious Pa Salt. “6?” I hear you say, “then why is it called the 7 sisters?”. Well, honestly that’s not yet clear, other than that there were supposed to be 7 sisters – to match the 7 sisters of the Pleiades, but in Pa Salt’s own words he never found the 7th sister. One out of many mysteries which I hope and expect will be revealed in the 7th book.
Normally I’d be very wary of getting invested in such a long series. What if she looses her mojo half way through and doesn’t finish (I’m looking at you, Patrick Rothfuss!)? What if she has a great idea for the beginning or a few good stories but no idea how it’s going to end? But not only has she been putting out one of these books a year consistently (which is an impressive tempo for something this well written and excessively researched), she had an overall plan for the entire series before she even published the first book. And I have faith. Someone who does the amount of research Lucinda Riley does for her books clearly must have a plan.
In order to enjoy this series you have to first swallow a pretty unbelievable and utopic premise: A kind and mysterious old man with wealth beyond imagination decides to adopt 6 baby girls from different backgrounds over a period of several years. He then brings them up at his Swiss fairytale estate – Atlantis, which is basically a mansion surrounded by nature with its own private lake access. Here they live in perfect peace and harmony, never wanting for anything and never (at least in the first 3 books) asking any questions about their origins or their mysterious adoptive father and what he does. They grow up and move away, living their own lives, until the news of their father’s death reunites them at Atlantis once more. Here they each receive a letter from their departed father, along with coordinates to give them a clue to their origins should they wish to discover them. Pretty far fetched, right? But… Honestly, it’s totally worth your willing suspension of disbelief to get past this, because the stories are really good.
Book 1 – The Seven Sisters (Maia)
The first book follows the story of the eldest sister, Maia. She is the only one out of the six who has remained at Atlantis as an adult. She has her own little home on the estate, and makes her living as a translator of novels. Though she conveniently happens to be visiting a friend in England when Pa Salt dies. There is mystery not only surrounding her adoptive father’s life, but also his death. He instructed that he was to be buried at sea, before any of his daughters were informed of his death. So when all the sisters return home it is to find that their father is already gone and the burial has taken place without them.
Maia is a cautious, studious woman who lives most of her life in isolation at Atlantis, having also chosen a profession (not by coincidence one assumes) that allows her to not leave her home. The clues offered to her about her past point to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Portuguese just so happens to be one of the two languages Maia studied in university and now translates from into French. However, though she may be curious, she is loath to leave the comfort and security of her home, and is only roused to travel to Rio when she gets news that an unwelcome visitor from her past intends to stop by. So, she orders a last minute ticket to Rio and flees from her past into her even more distant past.
In Rio, she meets up with a Brazilian author whose book she has translated, who also happens to be an historian. Together they embark on an adventure to uncover Maia’s ancestry. The coordinates from Pa Salt first lead them to a dilapidated old mansion, that houses a very old woman and her maid.
Through a series of old letters and stories handed down through generations Maia starts to uncover her past, through the story of her great grandmother. Set partially in Rio and partially in Paris during the 1920s ans 30s, the story centres around the construction of Christ the Redeemer – the imposing statue on the mountainside above Rio de Janeiro.
I won’t say much more about the story, so as not to spoil anything, but I will say a little about the quality of the writing and the construction of the novel. Lucinda Riley (seemingly) effortlessly weaves the threads of past and present, fact and fiction into a rich and vibrant tapestry. Just when I found myself really invested in the past story, it jumps back to the present, and vice versa (this will become a theme in the series..) – but not in an annoying way, rather it heightens my engagement and my urge to continue reading.
The book definitely has aspects of a romance, but more than that it’s a historical fiction, for which Lucinda Riley has done an astounding amount of research – and it shows. Not only did she live for a month in Rio, next door to the granddaughter of the architect of Christ the Redeemer and read his personal letters and journals, she also did extensive research into both Paris and Rio in the time she was writing about and the historical characters involved. There’s a bibliography in the back of the book with all her sources.
This is a solid work of historical fiction with some travelogue and romance thrown in the mix – it’s an adventure, a journey of discovery, and a book to lose yourself in. Well worth your time.