The House of Hidden Wonders is a superbly gripping historical adventure set in a richly detailed and immersive Victorian Edinburgh which immediately captured me in the richly atmospheric and intriguing prologue, and kept me enthralled until the final page.
Zinnie and her little sisters, Nell and Sadie, scrape a meagre living on the streets of Edinburgh, and live in the tunnels beneath it. Zinnie has taken both of the younger girls, who are orphans, into her heart and is determined to protect them and keep them safe: the strength of their sisterly bond is beautifully portrayed throughout. These unbreakable bonds of sisterhood are a strong theme within the story, and the relationships between the sisters was incredibly touching, especially in Zinnie’s absolute commitment to saving her youngest sister when she becomes desperately ill.
One of the people who gives Zinnie paid jobs is none other than a young medical student, Arthur Conan Doyle. He treats her with respect and values her opinion, asking for her help in solving a gruesome mystery, but unwittingly puts her in terrible danger as she tries to keep herself one step ahead of the law, and finds herself coming to the attention of a vile villain who will stop at nothing to protect his own secrets …
Zinnie’s life changes forever when she attends a séance being organised by the independently wealthy widow Lady Sarah Montague. It is not long before she finds herself at the centre of a dark and utterly intriguing mystery: uncovering hidden secrets within the House of Wonders museum; revealing the true story of the ghost haunting the tunnels; and, uncovering the perpetrator of a crime from the past that has come to the streets of her home … The plot is intricate, action-packed, heart-stopping, and so very, very clever: I was utterly compelled to follow Zinnie who proves to be a rather brilliant sleuth in her own right.
I absolutely adored Zinnie, who is just the most wonderful young girl. She is incredibly protective of Nell and Sadie who have become her sisters. Highly intelligent, fiercely independent and full of courage, Zinnie forges her own path and has an incredible inner strength and tenacity, not afraid to stand up to unscrupulous adults, and fight for those she loves. She sees past other peoples’ prejudices, and is determined to fight for the rights of others, especially those of another young girl who has found herself being cruelly exploited. The portrayal of this young girl’s condition is beautifully written: she is a victim, but she is also a fighter and a survivor, but who doesn’t need someone else fighting your corner when the odds are not in your favour? This is a role that Zinnie fulfils with kindness, ingenuity and great deal of empathy.
I also loved the portrayal of the strong adult female characters in this story. Lady Sarah Montague is an independent widow who uses her wealth to fulfil her sense of adventure by undertaking intrepid expeditions, and is quite capable of standing up for herself, and woe betide any man who thinks she should be doing otherwise! Dr Sophia Jex-Blake is a real historical figure, being the first female doctor in Scotland: I found the Author’s Historical Note regarding her fascinating.
It was a privilege to read this utterly compelling historical adventure with its inspirational female characters, realistic setting, and gripping plot which kept me turning page after page as I just had to follow the mystery with all of its superb twists and turns. Sheer brilliance!
Thank you to the Publishers for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.