Book Review: The Seven Sisters (Lucinda Riley)

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Plot: Maia D’Apliese and her five sisters gather together at their childhood home, “Atlantis”—a fabulous, secluded castle situated on the shores of Lake Geneva—having been told that their beloved father, who adopted them all as babies, has died. Each of them is handed a tantalizing clue to her true heritage—a clue which takes Maia across the world to a crumbling mansion in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Once there, she begins to put together the pieces of her story and its beginnings.

Eighty years earlier in Rio’s Belle Epoque of the 1920s, Izabela Bonifacio’s father has aspirations for his daughter to marry into the aristocracy. Meanwhile, architect Heitor da Silva Costa is devising plans for an enormous statue, to be called Christ the Redeemer, and will soon travel to Paris to find the right sculptor to complete his vision. Izabela—passionate and longing to see the world—convinces her father to allow her to accompany him and his family to Europe before she is married. There, at Paul Landowski’s studio and in the heady, vibrant cafes of Montparnasse, she meets ambitious young sculptor Laurent Brouilly, and knows at once that her life will never be the same again.

I initially started this review with: My review of the Seven Sisters won’t be the most extensive review I have ever written – ha, when I finally got going the going got long. It’s has been a while since I read The Seven Sisters, and only being nearly done with the second novel (and being more impressed), made me review the first.

I read through most of the book in a few days and then took about two weeks to read the last two hundred pages. Yup, the book is big enough for phrases like “last two hundred pages” to be thrown around. I was at that stage probably at 60% of the book, which gives you some indication of its size. It’s a bit too long, and I truly think that I would have enjoyed the book as a shorter novel more.

The Seven Sisters by Lucinda Riley starts when an enigmatic tycoon, named Pa Salt by his 6 adopted daughters, passes away under murky circumstances. Following his death, which occurs in the early pages of this book, he leaves each of his daughters with a set of coordinates and some information for them to hunt down their true roots. There is obviously something underfoot – The Seven Sisters should be, well Seven, and as they are only six daughters, there is a seventh missing daughter. I have some theories that are beginning to form on this, but we will see. He seems to also have chosen his daughters particularly well, as each daughter has an impressive lineage in her history despite her early orphanage.

Falling back into 1920, we meet Bel, a beautiful society queen who is barely of age. Her engagement to a wealthy, older society gentleman is of no surprise. The combination of her beauty, her father’s wealth, and Gustavo’s social status promises the elevation of her and her family into the elite social class in Brazil. Despite her father’s great success with his coffee plantations, the society still looks down on them because of their Italian heritage, and this will change with Gustavo’s status. There seems to be at least friendship in their relationship, but the youthful Bel wishes for some adventure before settling into her life as a married woman. This wish is granted when she can travel to Paris with Hector Da Silva, the architect in charge of the mammoth construction of the Christo, and his family. There Bel finds love in the arms of a penniless (but naturally) gorgeous apprentice but is mature enough to return to her home country and wed, knowing the dishonor that will befall her parents should she refuse.

Fast forward a few months, and Bel, married albeit unhappily to the now alcoholic Hector, is shocked when the beautiful Laurent shows up in Brazil. Because Bel is Catholic, and it is 1920, their now sexual relationship sans protection leads to a pregnancy, and Bel must decide her fate – run away with Laurent and bring shame on her deeply traditional family, or will she stay in a loveless marriage and pretend the child is Hector’s?

This part of the novel teaches life lessons like: if you made your bed you will lie in it, and makes you thankful that you are not a woman in the 1920’s. Also, don’t cheat on your husband, even if he is shitty. I really liked Bel, in fact much more so than her modern-day counterpart Maia, because she was vivacious, sweet and mostly kind. I won’t spoil her decision, and I am not sure if I agreed with her choice, but it remained hers to make.

Fast forward 90 years, Maia D’Apliese is motivated to explore her heritage when an old lover shows up close to their estate and wishes to meet with her. Maia has no such desire and sets off to Brazil where she meets up with the (also handsome) author she’s been assisting with translations of his novels. As a historian, he is interested in her history and aids her in her research. As neither of them are ugly, they soon have a little bit of chemistry going on.

Maia’s adventure is not that amazing, and to be honest she irritated me just a bit. She is overly dramatic and her responses to any event is exclamation marks and distress. She’s also mostly the reason I ended up stalling finishing the book – the woman loves to be dramatic. It is also in her sections where the author’s writing, which is overly descriptive at the best of times, became overbearing. I wish most modern novelists could understand that they don’t have to go JRR Tolkien on us all the time (or attempt to), because they aren’t sitting with the greatest novel of our time nor do they have his literary finesse (and I am looking at all of them with this, not only this author).

However, the book isn’t all bad. I enjoyed how involved the Rio community was with the construction of the Christo, it seemed everyone had a crucial role. The book is also just about interesting enough to continue into the second book, which I am relieved to say is much more interesting and the main character, who also has flaws, isn’t nearly as grating as Maia.

I have respect for the author for the research these books had to require, and how she aligns each daughter’s story. The second book is already much better than the first, and it seems like there won’t be any issues with plot holes later in the series.

I would refer this to people who have lots of time for reading, who are patient people, and like long and epic stories which isn’t fantasy based.

Rating: 6.5/10

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