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Review: The Lovers

The Lovers audiobook cover. A woman in 17th century dress, a striped gown with fitted bodice, stands behind a red banner reading "the lovers". In the background is the ominous figure of a plague doctor 'quack'. The Lovers by Irina Shapiro.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Duration 14 hrs 34 mins.

The Lovers is the first book in Irina Shapiro's 'Echoes from the Past' series, which follows respected archaeologist Dr Quinn Allenby as she uncovers the secrets of times gone by. Quinn is uniquely qualified to give voice to the long forgotten, as alongside her academic knowledge and practical skill in the field of forensic anthropology, Quinn has another gift; she can glimpse history through the eyes of people who witnessed it firsthand, by connecting with objects they held dear in their lifetime. This proves to be a blessing and a curse for an archaeologist, and few people know of Quinn's abilities for fear that she will no longer be taken seriously by her colleagues if word gets out.

In this book, Quinn's personal life mirrors the fate of the titular lovers - James and Elise - who must navigate love, loss, vengeance, and plague in mid-17th-century England. It is clear that there will be no 'happy ever after' for this pair, as their story begins at its end. We first meet James and Elise as they take their last breaths, dying together and buried in an unmarked grave which will not be discovered for almost four-hundred years. Their fate is so compelling in those initial moments, and their interactions so tender, that it is impossible not to be drawn in to their story. Their parting gave me chills and immediately connected me to these doomed lovers, desirous to know how they met such a tragic end.

I was not disappointed, with the plot exploring their past in a way that often echoed Quinn's present. This was accentuated by the fact that the narrator, Wendy Wolfsen, used the same voice for Quinn and Elise, and for James and Gabe. Whilst this had the potential to be confusing, I did not find the book hard to follow, and found both the historic and contemporary couples equally compelling.

As it is the first book in the series there are aspects of Quinn's story which remain unresolved, but they are not such a cliffhanger as to be frustrating. I am looking forward to the other books in the series, as I very much enjoyed the premise and the recurring characters. I did feel like a few aspects of Quinn's life were a little rushed, and would have liked the intimacy between Quinn and Grant to have been explored in a little more detail as it blossomed, but as so often with a book of two halves it can be difficult to balance the needs of two distinct plot lines and sets of characters. James' relationship with Elise definitely took centre-stage in this book, perhaps occasionally to the detriment of Quinn's, but only a little.

Wolfsen's narration made the book a pleasure to listen to. Her voice is warm and inviting, and perfect for this story. I enjoyed her portrayal of almost all the characters, though I did find the voice she gave to Elise and Quinn to be rather insipid, which was a shame but did not entirely prevent me from connecting with the women.

There is some anachronistic language in the book, such as the use of 'making love' in a time when that would have meant little more than being particularly nice to someone, but the style is consistent throughout and thus it does not feel too overtly out of place. The vocabulary is suitably British for the most-part, which is a triumph for an author who I believe grew up in America, as there are lots of words and phrases which often trip people up. The language felt natural and not gimmicky, which was very pleasing.

I'd recommend this book to anyone who likes historical romance, and anyone who enjoys fantasy books with a bit of a twist. If you're looking for a sweet story that ends with the protagonists trotting off together into the sunset then this book isn't for you. But if you like your love stories to take the lead from darker tales of myth, legend, and Shakespearean melodrama, then you're likely to enjoy it as much as I did.

Trigger warning: this book does contain discussions of rape and coercion, which recur throughout.

*I received this audiobook free of charge in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.

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