Book Review: The Shadow Year

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Author: Hannah Richell
ISBN: 978-0-7336-3050-7
RRP: $29.99

Hannah Richell has given us another gripping read that kept me guessing right to the very end. There were definitely some twists that caught me by surprise and there were others that I could see the writing on the wall from early on.


The Shadow Year is two distinct stories and two separate timelines which are inextricably entwined. I am not quite sure how much I want to say without skirting spoiler town.

Richell once more addresses issues of family, the intricate and often difficult relationship between siblings and also between parents and their children.

Lila has recently lost a baby and she is suffering through her grief in devastating solitude. To add to her pain she has also recently lost her father. Everyone grieves in their own way. Time and space need to be allowed for that but it is beginning to seem, to her husband and mother, that Lila is struggling to overcome this loss. Exacerbating Lila’s pain is the large gaps in her memory of the incident that took her unborn child, Lila feels that if she can only remember what happened then she will be able to move on. But what if the memory is more painful than the loss?

A mysterious envelope arrives leaving Lila a cottage, there is no mention of the benefactor or how she came to own this cottage and it all seems a little strange. If this was left by her father, why was it not bequeathed at the reading of the will? Curiousity gets the better of the Baileys and they head out to the cottage to take a look.

the shadow year

The cottage is ramshackle to say the least, it has been neglected for many years but the previous tenants seem to have left in a hurry because quite a bit remains of their time there. Cups on the table, books in the lounge, even flowers still on the windowsill – it seems that there’s a mystery afoot in this rundown cottage on the shores of a tranquil lake.

Lila decides that the cottage has potential and she wants to make it her new project. Almost like bringing the cottage back to life may help her to heal and head back from the brink. Her husband Tom struggles to understand her decision and finds himself reacting more to the distance it increases between them. Both of these characters are suffering the heartbreak of losing a child but their very separate ways of dealing with the loss is helping drive a wedge between them through a time that they need each other more than ever.

Then we have the parallel storyline taking place in 1980 when five friends take a drive through the English countryside and discover an abandoned lakeside cottage. This group of friends have been living together through college and have just graduated, the king of charisma in the group convinces them to take a year out and live in the cottage. The friends settle into roles and responsibilities to ensure their little community survives and the dynamic seems to be working quite productively until an unexpected guest arrives to throw their household into chaos.

Each of these storylines begins in July and though they take place three decades apart they are inextricably entwined. The Shadow Year is a year out of society hiding from the future for the 5 college graduates in 1980. A year in which most of their world is confined to the lake and its immediate surrounds, away from the pressures of the world but also away from the news. For Lila The Shadow Year is a year to mend her broken heart and learn how to go on living with the loss.

These characters are scarily real and totally believable, though at times you don’t want to think that people would really do that.

The mystery woven throughout this tale that leaves us wondering how the two strands of this story meet is one that kept me turning pages long after I should have been sleeping. There were elements of the mystery that I had figured out but there were a few that really hit me from left field.

Richell’s talent and her ability to write such heartfelt and heartbreaking sibling relationships never ceases to amaze me and I will definitely be keeping an eye out for all of her future novels.

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