The First Dance
Written by Catherine Law
Published by Bonnier Zaffre
Publication date: 22nd March 2018
Genre: Adult, Historical Fiction
Summary (from Goodreads):
To find what she has lost
she must go back to the beginning . . .
The First World War is over and eleven-year-old Alexa is growing up on the idyllic Cornish coast with her best friend Harvey. But she soon discovers there are secrets at the heart of her family that have been hidden for years. And when her mother dies suddenly, she finds her whole life thrown into turmoil.
Still reeling from the past and desperate for adventure, Alexa flees Cornwall for London, before travelling to the intoxicating city of Venice. But her new glamorous life is not what she hoped for and, with dark shadows closing in on her, Alexa will question everything she thought she wanted . . .
‘A touching tale of star crossed lovers’ New Magazine on Map of Stars
Dusk had fallen, the day snuffing itself out and, in the twilight, Alexa searched for her familiar surroundings, the headland, the evening star bright on the horizon. She sensed the presence of the sea as it continued to swell and move, the waves whispering their distant balladry. But the primal magic of Porthdeen that had always been with her, always by her side, was gone. However hard she looked, home was not home anymore. And her childhood, along with it, had vanished. Tomorrow was her twelfth birthday.
I saw this on Readersfirst, when browsing books due to come out soon.From the cover, I didn’t initially think that I would be interested in this book. Then I read the synopsis: as soon as Venice was mentioned I wanted to find out more!
Next, I noticed the time period that the story is set in – I really enjoy historical novels set during this period and I make an extra effort to read any books with Venice as the setting, so I clicked to read the first few chapters. (Readersfirst offers the opportunity to read a sneak preview to see if you would be interested in reading more)
I was hooked straightaway! Our main character initially comes across as quite fragile, yet quickly reveals that she has hidden depths and strength. I liked how the first chapter happens in present day, then the second chapter throws us back into the past. I can imagine that by the time we have read our way back up to present-day, we will have fallen in love with the characters and the events of the first chapter are going to hurt even more…
Okay, now I have read the book I have looked back at my first impressions and they were quite accurate. The story is split into sections, the first leading you back up to the events of the prologue, then continuing from there and the far-reaching consequences of what seems like quite an insignificant event.
I liked Alexa although I disagreed with some of her choices (as I disagree with some of the choices past me has made!). Harvey didn’t make a great impression in the prologue as I felt he seemed a bit controlling, but a softer side to his personality came out later on in the book. Overall, I didn’t feel that it was a story of ‘star-crossed lovers’ as mentioned on the cover, but a story of how selfish decisions that seem very simple can hurt lots of people around you.
Both Cornwall and Venice are described lovingly, with the themes of water and the sea running through everything. I did get impatient with one of the final twists of the story as I felt like our main character had already dealt with so much tragedy, yet the ending left me with tears in my eyes and the inner romantic satisfied.
Give this a go if you enjoy historical fiction, the landscape as a character and lovers finding their way back to each other time and time again despite mistakes on both sides. A realistic, heart-rending look at the ties of love, familial and other, and how they bind us and free us simultaneously.
Alexa stood for a moment, relishing the warmth of the bonfire at her back, its simple and fierce primordial heat. It could do nothing else but revive her, remind her that the darkest day was over, the dead winter was turning its face towards spring. In a week, no longer, the calendar would shift, a new year arrive. A new life, a new beginning, surely.
What I liked: The setting in both Cornwall and Venice, the time period in which it is set, the beautiful relationship between Alexa and her sister, the ending. I also liked how water runs through the stories, linking them and alternatively providing a sense of menace or comfort.
Even better if: The final tragedy felt like a step too far for a character who had already suffered too much, I distrusted Guy from the second he appeared, wish that Sarah and Eleanor had been more fleshed out as characters. Oh and this is an editing problem rather than anything else, but a characters says she couldn’t ‘bare’ something instead of ‘bear’ it on page 111. I am a pedant and this annoyed me!
How you could use it in your classroom: Not one for your primary classroom, but could be recommended at secondary level for avid readers of historical fiction or those studying the period between the first and second world wars. Though there is mention of extra-marital affairs, there is nothing explicit.
(Thank you to Readersfirst – I was lucky enough to win this in one of their prize draws!)