Natalie Meg Evans: A Gown of Thorns

Natalie Meg Evans’ short novel, A Gown of Thorns, begins in contemporary (2003) France, as Shauna Vincent arrives in the French wine country. Passed over for the research job she was expecting at home in Britain, she has taken a summer au pair post with a distant relative on her mother’s side of the family, a woman she has never met, Isabelle Duval. Hoping merely to survive until fall and get back to something worthy of her academic degree, Shauna has no idea what to expect at the Chateau de Chemignac.

A Gown of ThornsThe contemporary inhabitants of the chateau are a varied lot. Isabelle is warm and welcoming. Her uncle Albert is not (he hates redheads, particularly English redheads like Shauna). Neither is Rachel Moorcroft, the manipulative young English woman caring for the horses and the tourist trade. The children, Olive and Nico, are exhausting but charming. The most fascinating to Shauna is Laurent de Chemignac, Isabelle’s nephew and the master of the Chemignac winery.

There is another story at Chemignac, the tale of the English spy known as Yvonne Rosel and Henri de Chemignac, Laurent’s grandfather, and a few dangerous days in 1943. Albert has one version of that story, an amateur historian in the nearby town of Garzenac another, and Shauna soon finds herself drawn into Yvonne’s story in the most inexplicable ways.

Is the chateau haunted? Shauna is a scientist and certainly doesn’t believe in such things, even after she tries on the forbidden gown of thorns hidden away in the wardrobe of the strangely unsettling tower room. The sound of geese where there are none, the glimpse of a silhouette through a long walled up window, and the discovery of a cave that vanishes have Shauna questioning her own sanity.

Family connections known and unknown help to peel away the fate of Yvonne, a mystery that Shauna and Laurent must solve before they can find their own destinies.

Evans’ previous novels, The Dress Thief and The Milliner’s Secret (both of which I loved), are set in Paris before and during World War II. This shorter novel moves to the contemporary wine country, blending skillfully with the wartime countryside. Paranormal or psychological, A Gown of Thorns blends mystery, romance, and wine in a thoroughly satisfying vintage.

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