A review by Emma Streeton
The Lost Jewels is a riveting historical fiction inspired by the true story of ‘The Cheapside Hoard’. The ‘hoard’ was a large collection of expensive jewelry unearthed during construction in a London street in 1912. It is one of the most famous and mysterious finds of jewelry and gemstone treasures in the world. The ‘hoard’ still remains shrouded in mystery. If, like me, you are a fan of historical fiction, this novel is sure to have you captivated from the beginning to the unforgettable, surprising end.
Our main character is Dr Kate Kirby who is a well-respected jewelry historian who travels to London for a huge investigative feature on the Cheapside story. Little does she know that there is a hidden family connection to the jewels which gradually unfolds as the story progresses.
The book crosses multiple timelines (1600s, 1900s and the present day) and locations. Kate is the present character researching the jewels that are now part of a museum collection. She is an American whose great grandmother was an Irish immigrant who had left London as a young woman and never returned. Kate recognizes that some of the jewels in the collection are very like drawings her great grandmother Essie gave her. In a parallel story we go back to Essie, an impoverished Irish immigrant living in London. Without meaning to, Essie and her brother are swept up in an extraordinary discovery of jewels found beneath a London street. As Kate’s knowledge and discovery about the jewels deepens she unexpectedly uncovers more about her family and herself.
Structurally, The Lost Jewels resembles most historical fiction. The point of view switches between past and present. The beginning of each chapter tells you the year and which character it is about so at no point does it become confusing. The switching also allows for a gradual reveal of the secrets surrounding the jewels. Gradually the reader puts the parts together. For me it is this that makes this story so captivating and compelling to read.
I was particularly immersed in the story of Essie. The way in which Manning writes allowed the heartbreak, poverty and despair of her experiences to come through the pages so well. Kate, the other main character is confident and intelligent but, like Essie, has experienced hardship and loss. All in all, two very strong female protagonists.
The Lost Jewels is the first Kirsty Manning novel I have read but it certainly won’t be the last. I devoured this book in two sittings. I fell in love with the characters and the story, all whilst learning something new about history. A highly recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction. My advice is curl up on the sofa with a pot of tea by your side and enjoy!
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Imprint: Allen and Unwin
Format: paperback, 336 pages
Category: historical fiction