A pleasure today to be joining the blog tour for The Flame Within, the second in the planned three-book Linford Series, from Liz Harris: independently published on 1st October, it’s now available via Amazon in the UK and US both for kindle (free via Kindle Unlimited) and in paperback. My thanks to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for the invitation and support, and to the author for my advance reading copy.
How lovely to be able to read a book from Liz Harris again! I’d spotted the first in the series, The Dark Horizon, but just couldn’t fit in the reading – but Rachel assured me that each book could be read as a standalone, so I was delighted to join in. It’s such a long time since I read a book from Liz – 2013 when I read and loved The Road Back (before the blog – but I have tracked down my Goodreads review!). And it was 2015 when I read and reviewed The Lost Girl – I can still remember how much I enjoyed it, and you can read my review again here. It was such a pleasure to meet Liz (at long last) at last year’s RNA Winter Party – here’s the photo (and perhaps a salutary reminder never to give your camera to someone who’s sitting down!!).
So, let’s take a closer look at this lovely-looking book…
From award-winning author of The Dark Horizon, Liz Harris, comes the second in a sweeping saga set between the wars, which tells the story of the Linfords, a family simmering with secrets, lies and betrayal.
Alice Linford stands on the pavement and stares up at the large Victorian house set back from the road—the house that is to be her new home.
But it isn’t her house. It belongs to someone else – to a Mrs Violet Osborne. A woman who was no more than a name at the end of an advertisement for a companion that had caught her eye three weeks earlier.
More precisely, it wasn’t Mrs Osborne’s name that had caught her eye – it was seeing that Mrs Osborne lived in Belsize Park, a short distance only from Kentish Town. Kentish Town, the place where Alice had lived when she’d been Mrs Thomas Linford.
Thomas Linford – the man she still loves, but through her own stupidity, has lost. The man for whom she’s left the small Lancashire town in which she was born to come down to London again. The man she’s determined to fight for.
The Flame Within is perfect for readers of The Thorn Birds and the Cazalet Chronicles, and the novels of Fiona Valpy and Santa Montefiore.
Although I’ll readily admit that this book wasn’t at all what I was expecting, I really rather enjoyed it. The prologue – set in 1923, and the scene captured in the book’s description – largely captures Alice’s fall from grace and the reasons why she’s now taking up a position as Mrs Osborne’s companion. The story then goes back to 1904, when she’s a young girl living in a back-to-back cottage in a Lancashire mill town, on the edge of poverty, determined that she will do whatever is necessary to leave her home town and make a better life. Things get considerably worse before they get better, when Alice’s dreams are dashed by a tragic incident – but her determination finally sees her qualify as a nurse, moving to wartime London to care for soldiers returning from the front.
Working at the Queen Mary’s Convalescent Auxiliary Hospital, dealing with the aftermath of war and its impact on life, she meets Thomas Linford – a returning soldier who has lost both a leg and part of his hand – and their marriage sees her taking up a very different life, as part of the wealthy Linford family. But the closeness and happiness of those early days begins to falter – as well as the physical injuries, Thomas has been severely damaged by his experiences, and their marriage becomes an uncomfortable place to be. Tried beyond endurance, she finds solace elsewhere, and its source really isn’t the wisest of choices: after a return to Lancashire, her dreams in tatters, she decides to return to London – finding the position of a companion through the pages of The Lady – to get some closure over everything that’s happened, and the final part of the book follows her brave attempts to do so.
It’s not often I find myself telling a story when I write a review – I do hope nothing I’ve said constitutes a spoiler, but I do think you’ll pick up most of that from the prologue. But let me say more about the writing. The early part of the book is very much historical saga territory, the descriptions of the hardship and toil to put food on the table extremely well done, as are the descriptions of the living conditions (oh, that shared privy!) and the unexpected beauty of the industrial setting against its moorland backdrop. Alice’s friendship with May is very well portrayed too – she doesn’t share Alice’s dreams of a different and better life, and their paths are really well contrasted. The only thing I didn’t like so much was the way the speech patterns were captured – peppered with “yer” and “ter”, I will admit they began to jar a little.
The story moves to her life in London after her marriage, her relationships with both her husband and the wider Linford family, in sharp contrast to her former life – if you’ve read the first in the series, I’m guessing you’ll already know some of the family dynamics, but the fact I hadn’t caused no problems at all. This isn’t a fast moving story, although it’s not without its moments of drama – largely told through dialogue and various different encounters, and I very much enjoyed the way that was done and the different characters took shape. And Alice’s own character development is excellent – I thought she remained sympathetic throughout, and I liked the way she found fresh determination for her quest after her return from London. The social history was fascinating too, the era particularly well captured – the Linfords are involved in the construction industry, galvanised into action after the war, wrestling with the prospect of government-driven change, and there’s also excellent background to the changing role of women and their new opportunities and advantages.
But I think it was the last part of the book I might have most enjoyed – the part where we discover what Alice does next – with its particularly well drawn characters (Mrs Osborne is a particular delight), its moments of the unexpected, the delicious possibility of revenge, and the promise of new beginnings.
If you like your stories to be fast paced, this might not be the book for you – but if you enjoy a rather more gentle unfolding, set against a vivid portrayal of a period and its conventions, you might well enjoy it every bit as much as I did.
About the author
Liz’s first six novels were published by Choc Lit. The Road Back was the US Coffee Time and Romance Book of the Year, A Bargain Struck was RoNA-shortlisted for Best Historical Novel, and they and The Lost Girl, Evie Undercover, The Art of Deception and A Western Heart were shortlisted by the Festival of Romantic Fiction in their respective categories. Liz’s latest historical novel, The Dark Horizon, Book 1 of The Linford Series, which is set between the wars, was released in May 2020. She has also had short stories published in several anthologies and in magazines.
Liz is an active member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, and also of the Historical Novel Society. She regularly gives talks and workshops at conferences, and is an approved speaker for organisations such as the WI and U3A. Her hobbies are theatre, reading, travel, cryptic crosswords.