Book Review: Pandora by Susan Stokes-Chapman

Book Review: Pandora by Susan Stokes-Chapman

Pandora by Susan Stokes-Chapman
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I received an audio copy of this novel from the publisher, Harper Audio, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but that’s what initially drew me to Pandora. While not yet officially available in the US, it’s been out in the UK since January of 2022, and I had read some mixed reviews about it. But something about it still called to me, and when the audio became available to request on NetGalley, I jumped at the chance. I’m incredibly glad that I did, because this story was incredible, and I actually don’t know that I would have enjoyed it quite so much in any other format.

Our setting is London, 1799. Pandora “Dora” Blake is the orphaned daughter of noted antiquarians who specialized in Grecian artifacts and who died tragically on a dig site when Dora was just a girl. Dora’s uncle, Hezekiah, gained custody of both Dora and her parents’ London shop. There is no love lost between them. Hezekiah has always resented Dora, and Dora despises Hezekiah for running her birthright into the ground and slowly ruining the reputation her parents had built during their lifetime. Dora dreams of designing high-end jewelry and buying herself a life free from Hezekiah’s control. Along the way, Dora meets Edward Lawrence, an aspiring antiquarian, and they determine to help one another. When a Greek pithos of indeterminable age and in pristine condition makes its way to the shop, family secrets and buried trauma slowly, and almost sinisterly, comes to a head.

Even though I went into this novel hopeful, I have to confess that I didn’t have very high expectations. I have a serious weakness for anything inspired by Greek mythology, but I also can’t seem to help but judge said inspired stories a bit harshly, as well. And I’m just starting to get into historical fiction, which has always been a very hit-or-miss genre for me. But Pandora was recommended for fans of The Essex Serpent, which made me even more hopeful. My expectations were not only met, but exceeded. I can’t definitely see why it was compared to Sarah Perry’s work, and I can’t wait to get a physical copy to shelf next to The Essex Serpent. While not quite as philosophically profound, Pandora definitely scratched the same itch.

I loved the fact that I couldn’t decide whether or not there was a touch of magical realism to this book. Much like The Essex Serpent, it straddles that divide in such a way that you’re never entirely certain. Though, in this case, I’m leaning strongly in the direction of there being just a touch of the supernatural housed within the story. Especially when it comes to the pithos itself. It’s beautiful and somehow disturbing in its perfection, magnetic and repellant. I loved the undercurrent of similarities between Dora and her Grecian namesake. And the identity hinted at for one particular side character near the end of novel was a very fun touch.

While Pandora got off to a bit of a slow start, the tension and the atmosphere in this book were absolutely fantastic. I really enjoyed my reading of it. I highly recommend this audio version, as Olivia Vinall did an excellent job. This is one of those stories that I’m not sure I would have enjoyed to quite this extent had I read it with only my eyes instead of my ears. Listening to Pandora gave me strong Dickensian vibes, but with less meandering in the storytelling itself. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves historical fiction, or a good mystery. It’s a book that I can see myself reading again, and one that I look forward to adding to my physical collection someday.

You can purchase this book from: Blackwell’s | (Support independent bookstores!)Amazon US | Amazon UK | Audible | (Another way to support independent bookstores!) | Book Depository (Free shipping worldwide!)

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