the shadow hour

Title: The Shadow Hour
Author: Kate Riordan
Publication Date: 25th February 2016
Publisher: Penguin

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Harriet Jenner is just twenty-one when she walks through the gates of Fenix House. Reeling from a personal tragedy, she doesn’t expect her new life as a governess to be easy. But she certainly does not foresee the spell Fenix House will cast.

Almost fifty years later, Harriet’s granddaughter Grace follows in her footsteps. For Grace, raised on Harriet’s spellbinding stories, Fenix House is a fairy tale; a magical place suspended in time.

But the now-faded grandeur of the mansion soon begins to reveal the holes in Harriet’s story and Grace finds herself in a place of secrets and shadows. For Fenix House hides truths about her family, and everything that she once knew is about to change.


I haven’t read a book like The Shadow Hour for years. It was reminiscent of books like Bitter Sweets by Roopa Farooki and After You’d Gone by Maggie O’Farrell in the sense that the whole story is told with switching perspectives spanning several decades. It is split into two different perspectives: Harriet in the 1870s, and Harriet’s granddaughter Grace in the 1920s.

In the 1870s Harriet goes to work at Fenix House as a governess to two children. Since her granddaughter Grace was born, Harriet has told her hundreds of romanticised stories of her time at Fenix house. Fifty years later, a position opens up yet again at the house for a new governess and at the recommendation of her grandmother, Grace takes the job. While she lives there she discovers truths about her grandmother that she was never told – things that change the way she views herself and the many generations before her.

“The WHOLE truth comes out about everything almost in the very last chapter. It’s tense…”

The switching perspectives were so effective in telling the story. Sometimes I find that switching perspectives can be used as a bit of a gimmick and there really isn’t any point. However, The Shadow Hour wouldn’t be the same if it wasn’t more the story being told from both characters’ point of view. In Grace’s time a character might mention something her grandmother did, and then we get to see that event happen from Harriet’s point of view.

I loved the element of dark mystery that the book had. It was great at keeping the mystery hidden until the reveal. I guessed a couple of things that happened but nothing happened exactly in the way that I had imagined, so even if I was correct, I was still shocked to find out the truths right at the end of the book. (And when I saw right at the end, I mean that the WHOLE truth comes out about everything almost in the very last chapter. It’s tense.)

“The story was perfect, the mystery was intriguing throughout, and the characters were wonderfully written”

One thing I also loved was the characterisations. It was clear to me almost instantly who I’d like and who I wouldn’t, and I was usually right. When Grace became the governess at Fenix House, she was in charge of a young boy called Lucas who quickly became one of my favourite characters. I also really liked Bertie, one of Harriet’s charges in the 1870s and who is still living at the house fifty years later. The relationship between both women and the boys felt so special, especially the one between Grace and Lucas. Lucas has many problems and rarely leaves his room. He is short-tempered and frail due to lack of human interaction and sunlight. Despite this, Grace lures him out of his shell. His character and his story arc reminded me a lot of Colin from The Secret Garden.

I really enjoyed The Shadow Hour – I can’t find any faults with it. The story was perfect, the mystery was intriguing throughout, and the characters were wonderfully written. As soon as I finished reading it I went and bought another one of Kate Riordan’s novels, which I can’t wait to read!

My rating: 5