One evening, the Duchess of Fainhope gives birth to a son, the heir of the empire. That same night, the governess, Miss Mantilla, gives birth to a son of her own. When the Duchess' son dies hours later, the living son is swapped and presented as the dead. What follows is a detailed account of the lives of these two women, the son, and the people that surround them.
What first drew me to this book was its gorgeous cover. And let me tell you - it's even more eye-catching in real life. Other than that, though, I was drawn to the book because of the summary on the back cover. It promised scandal, lies, twists, love, and good ol' Victorian fun. While it delivered on all these promises, reading Fixing Shadows was not simply a walk in the park.
In keeping with the time frame of the novel, Susan Barrett's prose is formal, old-fashioned, and very English. It took me a few chapters to get used to this, and I found that I had to be fully focused on the book while reading. Fixing Shadows and distractions do not mix very well is what I soon discovered. Now, her writing can be quite beautiful and rich at times, but (at least to me) it did tend to become monotonous and slightly boring on occasion. There are a lot of purely descriptive parts in the book, and this is where I zoned out and started skimming. That's a habit that I am not proud of, but who can blame me? I wanted to get to the good, juicy parts! Enough with all this useless (but not really) description.
I love, love, love the originality and creativity that went into the plot and characters. Fixing Shadows probably has one of the most complex and hard-to-follow plots I've ever read, but it's not sloppy at all. Everything fits, everything works. Since the book mostly takes place in London, some characters speak in a way that was extremely difficult to understand. I didn't appreciate this aspect at all, and found myself once again skimming these parts. But I realise that Barrett wanted to accurately depict life back then, and this was part of the overall atmosphere. If you can get past the severe English-ness of the book, you'll most likely fall in love with the wide array of characters.
To wrap this all up and get all my opinions in check, I can safely say that Fixing Shadows was a successful read. It wasn't necessarily a page-turner, it wasn't a fast read, and it was a bit confusing at times. If you pay attention, take the time to savour Barrett's lovely and delicate writing, get invested in the plot, and get to know the characters, Fixing Shadows will turn out to be a dark, haunting, but very solid read.
Recommendation: Like I said before, this book is well-suited for someone who enjoys Victorian books, isn't turned off by a complex plot, and can handle formal and (occasionally) stiff writing.