Cherished and/or Cursed?

Book Review for “The Castle Keepers” by Aimie K. Runyan, J’nell Ciesielski, and Rachel McMillan.

Summary: 1870. After a disastrous dinner at the Astor mansion forces her to flee New York in disgrace, socialite Beatrice Holbrook knows her performance in London must be a triumph. When she catches the eye of Charles Alnwick, one of the town’s most enviably-titled bachelors, she prepares to attempt a social coup and become the future Marchioness of Northridge. When tragedy and scandal strike the Alnwick family, Beatrice must assume the role of a lifetime: that of her true, brave self. 1917. Artist Elena Hamilton arrives in Northumberland determined to transform a soldier’s wounds into something beautiful. Tobias Alnwick’s parents have commissioned a lifelike mask to help their son return to his former self after battle wounds partially destroyed his face. But Elena doesn’t see a man who needs fixing—she sees a man who needn’t hide. Yet secrets from their past threaten to chase away the peace they’ve found in each other and destroy the future they’re creating. 1945. Alec Alnwick returns home from the war haunted but determined to leave death and destruction behind. With the help of Brigitta Mayr, the brilliant young psychoanalyst whose correspondence was a lifeline during his time on the Western Front, he reconstructs his family’s large estate into a rehabilitation center for similarly wounded soldiers. Now Alec’s efforts may be the only chance to redeem his family legacy—and break the curse on the Alnwick name—once and for all.

Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Fiction; Settings: Era/s: Historical, Multiple Timelines; Location/s: UK – Alnwick Castle, Northumberland; Other Categories: Novel (or three connected novellas), Biographical, Romance, Multiple Authors – Collaboration.

Castle Keepers GR

Before people automatically write this one off, kvetching about how they hate multiple timeline novels, let me assure you that this is one that works well, and where each timeline has equal importance. Actually, if you think about it, this isn’t really a multiple timeline book at all. That’s because the three eras were split up, and the separate authors got to write one self-contained novella for that era. Obviously, to make this work, you need a connection, and in this case the major thread here was the same location – the castle (which, by the way, may look familiar to you from shows such as Downton Abbey and the Harry Potter films). The authors also all used a woman who comes to the castle from the outside, and becomes involved with the family in one way or another. Obviously, because these women get involved with the heir to the title, each of these three stories involve some level of romance. Thankfully, the romantic bits aren’t the be-all and end-all in these stories, and each one has something else with which to deal.

Now, this isn’t the first time I’ve read a book with multiple authors. Most famously, are the “Team-W” books by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White. But this book is more like “Ribbons of Scarlet” where each author took a different personality involved in the French Revolution, and fit them into a mostly chronological, connected, single story. Where this book differs from that one is that here we jump from one generation to another. Since these stories are all about a castle belonging to one family, we do get bits from the first story seeping into the second and third parts, which adds to the feeling of a whole novel, except that they’re each written by three different authors.

This is where I comment on the consistency of the writing, which was one of the problems I had with “Ribbons of Scarlet.” When writers come together to collaborate on a single work, I’m sure there are several methods at their disposal. In this case, I’m guessing that the collaboration was more on the details about the castle itself, and things that overlapped from one generation to another, more than anything else. Since each of the stories have their own plots, each of the authors could develop their own intrigues and conflicts, to suit their own styles of writing. I must say that I found each of these stories to be very compelling reads, and were almost equally well written. Mind you, I did find the first story a bit slow to begin with, but that’s to be expected to a certain extent, since that’s the one that had to set everything else up. I should admit that there was a plot element (well, more an unseen character) in the last story that didn’t work for me completely. On the other hand, this was the first work I’d read by Ciesielski, and now I’d like to read more of her work.

All told, for a debut collaboration, I think these three did a very good job of telling us about this castle and the people who both came to it, and those born to inherit. I liked how there were small mysteries added into each of the stories (and yes, even murder – actual and attempted), which I believe was one way to keep the romance from getting saccharine. However, as much as I liked all three of the female protagonists, the male ones weren’t as strong, and none of these tales made me overly emotional when they came to an end. That said, I can still very warmly recommend this novel… er… connected set of novellas, and I think it deserves a very healthy rating of four out of five stars.


fc16c-netgalleytinyHarper Muse released “The Castle Keepers” by Aimie K. Runyan, J’nell Ciesielski, and Rachel McMillan on May 2, 2023 (in the US). This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Blackwell‘s, Foyles, Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK and Wordery US, Kobo US (eBooks and audiobooks),, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from and UK.Bookshop (supporting independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic). I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley.

This novel qualifies for the following reading challenges: New Release Challenge (#15), Historical Fiction Reading Challenge (#12).

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8 thoughts on “Cherished and/or Cursed?

  1. I’m one of those readers who usually doesn’t like a multi-timeline novel, but it sounds like this collection of three novellas handles that well. I requested it at the public library after reading your review. Thank you for the information.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was very good, but I think these three need to work a touch harder on the shorter form for it to be really WOW. They came very close, as you can see from my rating. But you know, it takes practice to work together as well. If they do another book, I’m sure it will be even better!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Collaborations must be challenging! When you mentioned a place that connects stories of 3 characters over 3 timelines I thought of The Women of Chateau Lafayette.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, that’s an example, but I wasn’t impressed with it. Team W does it very well (Williams, Willig, and White), and I hope to read their latest (Lost Summers of Newport) soon.

      Liked by 2 people

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