Having first come to Laura Andersen’s work through her Boleyn King and sequel Tudor Legacy series, I was intrigued when I learned she had a new novel that broke from the alternative history genre. Add the fact that the description for The Darkling Bride involved both literary and murder mysteries and it promised to check a surprising number of boxes in terms of what I enjoy in a novel. As I found with her other works, The Darkling Bride took me a little while to become invested but Andersen’s skill with weaving a tight plot from threads that appear too loose to hold their structure ensured a satisfying showdown and resolution.
Carragh Ryan needs a break from dealing with her family as she works to renovate her late grandmother’s house in Dublin. Spending a few weeks cataloguing an old, large, and private library at an estate where power is faulty at best and a cell phone signal is non-existent seems like the perfect excuse to continue her avoidance. That the castle of Viscount Gallagher and his family also has ties to one of her favorite nineteenth century writers is the icing on the cake. But a twenty-year-old double murder cold case begins to thaw soon after she arrives and the Gallagher family’s dark past threatens to suck her in too.
The Darkling Bride is pretty much three stories slowly spiraling into one. In the beginning, this can be confusing and frustrating. The strongest and main thread belongs to Carragh Ryan and Aidan Gallagher in the most recent timeline. At first, the narrative dips into the late 1880s, feel like they’re only connected to Carragh’s interest in the writer, Evan Chase, and his marriage into the Gallagher family. Similarly, the flashes back to Aidan’s parents begin far enough from their murders to feel only loosely connected in their earliest appearances. Both the 1880s and 1990s narrative threads also appear in such short burst that it can be difficult to get much footing with them, making them feel like they’re meant to trip the reader up or distract from what’s really going on—the misdirection necessary to make the sleight of hand work. It’s only after the puzzle pieces of the present begin to fall into place that it becomes clearer that all three timelines are connected by more than just the location and the Gallagher name.
Amongst the hints at the supernatural and the thrill of the murder mystery, there is some heavy-hitting exploration of the interaction between personal identity and the influence of trauma as well as the nature of family and heritage. Carragh and Aidan develop a connection because of their early traumas and the ways they each coped with them. The empathy they not only have, but recognize in each other, keeps the lines of communication open between them and leads to rapid resolution when misunderstandings occur. Though Aidan and his sister arguably experienced the same trauma in the death of their parents, what once brought them together has since contributed to how far they’ve drifted apart.
Though I can’t wait for Laura Andersen to delve back into alternative history (mostly because there are too few writers who tackle it as a subgenre), I will happily read whatever she writes next.