When twenty-two-year-old Olivia is coerced into marriage by the cruel Alistair Sheldon she leaves England for Egypt, his home and the land of her own childhood. Reluctant as she is to go with Alistair, it’s in her new home that she finds happiness in surprising places: she is reunited with her long-estranged sister, Clara, and falls – impossibly and illicitly – in love with her husband’s boarder, Captain Edward Bertram.
Then Clara is abducted from one of the busiest streets in the city. Olivia is told it’s thieves after ransom money, but she’s convinced there’s more to it. As she sets out to discover what’s happened to the sister she’s only just begun to know, she falls deeper into the shadowy underworld of Alexandria, putting her own life, and her chance at a future with Edward, the only man she’s ever loved, at risk. Because, determined as Olivia is to find Clara, there are others who will stop at nothing to conceal what’s become of her . . .
I enjoy a good thriller and I also like well-written romantic fiction especially historical so Beneath a Burning Sky ticks all the boxes for me. There is mystery, intrigue, illicit romance, abduction, lies, betrayal, murder. The story takes place in 1890s Alexandria when Egypt was still under British occupation and begins with an abduction then takes us back to a few months earlier.
22 year old Olivia has been brought to Alexandria by her husband Alistair who, you find out very quickly, is a thoroughly nasty, controlling, cruel character. Olivia is very unhappy but is unable to tell anyone. So, I thought to myself, it’s a bit of a melodrama; maybe a bit of a cliché.
I’m happy to say I was wrong. It’s better than that and I really enjoyed the story.
Years earlier, Olivia and her sister Clara had been forced to leave their childhood home of Cairo after the death of their parents and return to England to their grandmother. However their grandmother, a bitter, nasty woman, had kept them apart and had allowed no communication between the sisters. The grandmother also had a hand in leaving Olivia no choice but to marry Alistair, colluding with him to virtually blackmail Olivia into marriage. On a happier note, it turns out her older sister Clara is married to Alistair’s business partner and has been living in Alexandria with her husband and children.
The story is quite complex, there are several threads and quite a lot of characters, and yet I didn’t find it too complicated. It is well written with a good balance of description, dialogue and background information so it’s not difficult to read. The romantic parts are not overly mushy but they are part of the story. I didn’t try too hard to work out the connections between some of the characters; I just let myself enjoy the story and the plot twists and wait for the connections to be revealed in time.
You hope there will be a happy ending but you can’t be entirely sure given the way the story unfolds. You just have to read it and find out for yourself!
Beneath a Burning Sky is Jenny Ashcroft’s debut novel in the UK. It was published in paperback on 29 June 2017 by Sphere. It is also available for Kindle.
[My thanks to NetGalley and Sphere for providing a digital copy]