Book review: The Spanish Promise by Karen Swan

Monday, March 25, 2019 Permalink

I wasn’t sure about this book as it’s a bit outside of my usual reading genre. I don’t read a lot of women’s fiction and stay far far away from historical fiction.

I do however, often read books that alternate between the past and present (a la Natasha Lester, Kate Morton etc), which this book does and I was thankfully engaged in this story and drawn to the characters from the get-go.

Book review: The Spanish Promise by Karen SwanThe Spanish Promise
by Karen Swan
Published by Macmillan
on March 26th 2019
Source: PanMacmillan
Genres: Historical Fiction, Women's Fiction
ISBN: 1529006171, 9781529006179
Pages: 400

Charlotte, a wealth counsellor who knows from personal experience the complications that a sudden inheritance can bring, helps her clients navigate the emotional side effects of sudden wealth syndrome.

When she is asked by Mateo Mendoza, heir to a huge Spanish estate, to fly to Madrid to help resolve an issue in his father's will, she's confident it will be straightforward. The timing isn't great as Charlotte's due to get married the following week, but once her client signs on the dotted line, Charlotte can return to her life in London and her wedding, and live happily ever after. Marrying Stephen might not fill her with excitement, but she doesn't want to live in the fast lane anymore - safe and predictable is good.

But Carlos Mendoza's final bequest opens up a generation of secrets, and Charlotte finds herself compelled to unravel the mystery. As Charlotte digs deeper, she uncovers the story of a family divided by Spain's Civil War, and of a love affair across the battle lines that ended in tragedy.

And while she is consumed in the drama of the Mendozas, Charlotte's own tragic past catches up with her, threatening to overturn everything in her life she's worked so hard to build.

Charlotte is a great lead, though we soon learn she has her secrets. We’re kept in the dark initially and I guess I’m more accustomed to the foreshadowing and the ‘reveal’ in mysteries and crime fiction.

So… I wasn’t entirely clear on the backstory re Charlotte’s father and her family’s fall from grace; and Swan mentions an ex-love; and then drops in an ex-husband… the latter being so matter-of-fact I thought I’d missed something. Charlotte’s party girl past probably wasn’t entirely explained as well as I would have liked though we’re fed it in snippets.

She’s obviously changed however and when we meet her is a ‘wealth counsellor’. I assume such positions exist but am unlikely to ever have the money to need one. 🙁

She seems to be a bit of a trouble-shooter, excelling in her field and knows all of the right people. Of course her fiancé Stephen is also a wealthy high achiever and he (along with Charlotte’s mother) thinks her place should be at home, lunching with friends, supporting charities, and her husband-to-be. So… it’s obvious there are some tensions in Charlotte’s relationship and she seems to be simply going with the flow on the wedding and marriage front.

Charlotte’s a pretty strong, confident and resolute character though so I wondered how she’d fallen into such a relationship. In fact, as we learn more, it’s as if she’s stumbled from one bad decision to the next, to the next.

Her trip to Spain then is opportune (for her anyway) and of course – as can be expected – while there she’s reminded what real love is and gets the proverbial wake-up call she needs.

I enjoyed the story of the Mendoza family in the lead up to the Spanish Civil War and WWII. Young Nene, our narrator for that time, is a complex character: understanding her privileged lifestyle and feeling a sense of guilt at that; in addition to some horror at the way her family treats their workers. We traverse a half a dozen or so years with Nene as war approaches and – in the present, 70+ yrs later – try to understand the bequest of an old man and how it ties to the events of the past.

I liked the way Swan portrays wealth and happiness in the book. Suggesting (almost) that the two are mutually exclusive, particularly if you’ve not grown up with money. We meet another of Charlotte’s clients, the wife of an english football (soccer) star who’s moved with her (childhood sweetheart) husband and child to Spain and her struggles with the fame and fortune her husband’s career has brought upon them.

As I’ve mentioned, there were probably a few holes for me – particularly in terms of the pacing with some leaps in time / plot progression.

But that whinging aside, I started reading this and didn’t stop. I’d use the term ‘guilty pleasure’ but I don’t mean to imply some books are more worthy than others. It’s more that this was akin to what I think of as a ‘comfort read’. I know some people talk about holiday reads or the like.

Parts of the ‘present’ were a tad predictable, though others rather surprising, however the plot unfolding in history was quite an intriguing one and Swan timed its delivery to the events of the present very well.

The Spanish Promise by Karen Swan will be published in Australia by PanMacmillan available from 26 March 2019.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.