The Phantom Tree is a truly imaginative and mesmerizing rendition surrounding the mystery of 16th Century Mary Seymour who went missing from Wolf Hall as a child. Mary was the daughter of Katherine Parr, the sixth and final wife of Henry the VIII. After his death, she married Thomas Seymour but died shortly after giving to Mary. Thomas was executed for treason a few years later but was able to get Catherine Willoughby, the then-Dowager Duchess of Suffolk, to agree to become Mary’s reluctant guardian.
The sparse references to Mary include initial correspondences from the Duchess indicating she was less than thrilled with the burden of keeping a Queen’s daughter in the expected level of accommodations and documents indicating a monthly stipend was awarded from the crown before the records go silent regarding Mary. There is no death or marriage records for her even though people, through the centuries, have claimed to be descendants of Mary. Nicola takes this vague background and weaves in the story of Alison Bannister, Mary’s supposed childhood enemy, but now a young woman trapped in the 21st Century. Alison’s own personal reasons for desperately searching for a way back for her own personal reasons bring light to the tragic short life of Mary. The unfolding of Alison’s desperate quest comes through the clues that Mary is able to leave centuries before.
I was totally enthralled with this tragic tale and even spent time exploring the known history of Mary Seymour and Catherine Parr. The addition of a story-line about the fictitious Alison Bannister allows the novel to have real depth and intrigue while giving an intimate look at the experiences of both Alison and Mary. There is magic and time-travel that fit seamlessly into the plot and seem as if they could be plausible. It is apparent from the settings, events, and attitudes of The Phantom Tree that Nicola has an in-dept knowledge of the period. Her ancillary characters also bring great variety and texture to this already rich story.
This is a republication of the the same book, different cover, released December 29, 2016. I am not sure if any changes were made in the two versions.