book review, historical fiction

Review: Pandora by Susan Stokes-Chapman

Pandora by Susan Stokes-Chapman takes place at the close of 18th century in London and follows Pandora Blake, fledgling jewelry designer and daughter of late, renowned antiquities collectors. Twelve years after their death on an archeological site, Dora lives with her uncle, the greedy Hezekiah, who has made her parents’ antiquities shop into a farce. What’s more, Dora suspects he has been trading in the black market. Dora’s only solace is her magpie, Hermes, and her sketchbook where she draws out her dreams of becoming a jewelry designer.

Dora soon meets Edward Lawrence, a young book binder with a wealthy benefactor friend Cornelius Ashmole, who strives to be admitted into the Society of Antiquities. Dora and Edward cross paths and soon begin a joint effort to study a mysterious, ancient pithos her uncle keeps hidden in the basement. But misfortune after misfortune seems to plague everyone who has come in contact with the pithos, causing both Dora and Edward to suspect the ancient vase could possibly be the Pandora’s Box.

Pandora ticked every box of my tastes: 18th century-set, an independent woman with a steadfast dream (the magpie pet was a great bonus!), and speculative/unexplainable elements woven into the story. I was very much reminded of The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock, which I also loved. I also appreciated the relationship of mutual, professional respect between Dora and Edward, as well with the play on traditional roles/ role reversal in terms of traditional gender binary. Edward also has an interesting relationship with his friend Cornelius, in terms of both socioeconomic class and sexual orientation. Fans of Mermaid, Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue, and Harlots on Hulu will love Pandora.