#Review: A Woman Made of Snow by Elisabeth Gifford @elisabeth04liz @CorvusBooks @RandomTTours #blogtour #histfic #AWomanMadeOfSnow

By | October 19, 2021

It’s an absolute pleasure today to be joining the blog tour and sharing my review of A Woman Made of Snow by Elisabeth Gifford: published by Corvus Books on 7th October, this wonderful book is now available for kindle (just 99p at present), in hardcover and as an audiobook. My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation and support: the copy I read was my own, preordered for my kindle.

It took me far too long to discover Elisabeth Gifford’s wonderful writing. When I read The Lost Lights of St Kilda, I struggled to find the vocabulary to express how much I loved it. The author’s story-telling is simply exceptional: the book moved me so deeply, and kept me entirely gripped from its first page to its last. It was, of course, one of my 2020 Books of the Year – you’ll find my full review here, and I immediately downloaded everything she’d written. And now, a new one… and it looked every bit as wonderful…

A gorgeous, haunting, and captivating novel of a century-long family mystery in the wilds of Scotland, and one woman’s hunt for the truth.


Scotland, 1949: Caroline Gillan and her new husband Alasdair have moved back to Kelly Castle, his dilapidated family estate in the middle of nowhere. Stuck caring for their tiny baby, and trying to find her way with an opinionated mother-in-law, Caroline feels adrift, alone and unwelcome.


But when she is tasked with sorting out the family archives, Caroline discovers a century-old mystery that sparks her back to life. There is one Gillan bride who is completely unknown – no photos exist, no records have been kept – the only thing that is certain is that she had a legitimate child. Alasdair’s grandmother.


As Caroline uncovers a strange story that stretches as far as the Arctic circle, her desire to find the truth turns obsessive. And when a body is found in the grounds of the castle, her hunt becomes more than just a case of curiosity. What happened all those years ago? Who was the bride? And who is the body…?

An intriguing and atmospheric prologue, a brief glimpse of Caroline as an independent woman with ambitions and a touch of unconventionality – and then we join her again in 1949, married to Alasdair Gillan, living in a cottage in the grounds of Kelly Castle, coping with the demands of being a new mother. Kelly Castle is the Gillans’ ancestral home, now the home of Alasdair’s mother Martha – and their relationship is an uneasy one, with Martha constantly overstepping the mark in her attempts to help and advise (despite her determination not to replicate the remembered interference of her own mother in law).

The future of the castle is in the balance, its upkeep becoming untenable – and Caroline undertakes the task of researching its history, to increase its appeal for potential buyers but also in the hope of solving the mystery of one of the Gillan ancestors, a wife erased from family history, Alasdair’s great grandmother. A flood uncovers a body in the grounds of the cottage – the body of a woman, its age giving a possible link to the mysterious missing ancestor – and the story becomes dual time as we revisit the Gillan family in the 1870s and the full story is slowly uncovered.

At first, the earlier story is that of Charlotte and Louisa, orphaned and spending their summers with the family – Charlotte is spirited and unconventional, a talented artist, who yearns in vain to be noticed by Oliver, the family’s son, whose only interest is in the beautiful Louisa. Separated from them both by the machinations of his mother and her social aspirations, Oliver pursues the woman he still hoped to make his wife – only to find that Louisa has aspirations of her own, and his courtship is doomed to failure. That drives him, a medical student, to join a whaling ship as the ship’s doctor – his extraordinary story then becomes the book’s main focus is the hardships of his journey to the Arctic, with a few unexpected experiences and discoveries along the way.

The author’s story-telling really is quite exceptional – I found the whole story enthralling and entirely immersive as it moved seamlessly between Caroline’s attempts to solve the mystery (while continuing to struggle with that relationship with Martha) and the twists and turns of the family’s history in the late 1800s. The part of the story that will stay with me the longest will be Oliver’s Arctic journey – entirely compelling, the descriptions are stunning, the vivid depiction of life on board, the constant edge of danger, the cold you can feel in your bones. But I was also gripped by the unfolding family drama – in both the historical thread and Caroline’s story – underpinned by society’s expectations, the changing roles of women, the prevalent prejudices and norms of the time, and the depths to which they drove some of their actions.

The characterisation is quite superb – the various women (especially Charlotte – her character is simply fascinating), but also Oliver with his naivety and uncertainty as he embarks on his great adventure. The book’s emotional touches are particularly astute – at heart, this is a developing love story that tears at your heart, makes you rage at every wrong and injustice, that makes you ache at the impossibility of a happy ending. The mystery that drives the story is compelling too – the many red herrings, the dripping of clues that slowly allow the identity of that body to be discovered. The research behind the writing must have been immense – not just the realities of life on the whaling boat and its perilous journey, but all the small detail, the importance of the Dundee whaling industry to the production of jute, and the wonderfully replicated social scene of the times.

When I reviewed the author’s last book, I really struggled to find the words to convey how much I loved it – and once more those words have proved difficult to find. But Elisabeth Gifford’s writing is truly exceptional – I’ll never forget this book, and I’ll certainly always remember the way it made me feel.

Praise for Elisabeth Gifford

About the author

Elisabeth Gifford grew up in a vicarage in the industrial Midlands. She studied French literature and world religions at Leeds University. She has a Diploma in Creative Writing from Oxford OUDCE and an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway. She is married with three children, and lives in Kingston upon Thames. A Woman Made of Snow is her fifth novel.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

9 thoughts on “#Review: A Woman Made of Snow by Elisabeth Gifford @elisabeth04liz @CorvusBooks @RandomTTours #blogtour #histfic #AWomanMadeOfSnow

  1. annecater

    Thanks so much for the blog tour support Anne. I loved this one, her best yet, I think x

    1. Anne Post author

      Sorry I’m a little late this morning – but I entirely loved this wonderful book! x

    1. Anne Post author

      Looking forward to your review Linda – hoping you’ll have found the words I was lacking!

  2. Joanne

    I really love the sound of this one but couldn’t fit it in. Sounds like I’d better download it for later!

    1. Anne Post author

      Joanne, you’ll love it – download it now!

  3. WendyW

    I love books set in Scotland, and this sounds so good.

Comments are closed.