On occasion something seemingly small and innocuous has more to it than meets the eye, as we see in Susan Stokes-Chapman’s debut novel Pandora. Pandora “Dora” Blake is an aspiring jewelry designer in Georgian London living and working in her deceased parents’ antiquities shop, now run by her comically odious uncle Hezekiah Blake. As we meet Dora her only real friendship is with her pet magpie Hermes as she watches her parents’ formerly reputable establishment fall into negligent hands and, to her disappointment, filled with fraudulent antiques.
Her story takes a turn as a mysterious crate containing a greek vase, also called a pithos, arrives and is locked in the basement of the store. The object’s arrival makes her question the nature of its origins as well as what she thought she knew about herself and the trade she has become so accustomed to. Inspired by the origins and nature of the vase she begins her own adventure which leads her to joining forces with Edward Lawrence, an intriguing academic longing to join the Society of Antiquities with his own goals surrounding the pithos.
Dora is a clever and creative character, the reader finds her at odds with her uncle and his housekeeper Lottie as her story begins but even at the start her personality shows herself to be more than a victim of her circumstances. Pandora includes several alternating points of view in its narration, which builds the world of Georgian London beyond the confines of Dora’s story and allows the reader to peek into the curious and intricate version of London that Stokes-Chapman has built for her audience.
The reader may go into this novel with an assumption of the subject matter, but unlike books such as Circe and Song of Achilles, Pandora is not a direct retelling of the classic myth but is still connected and inspired by the story of Pandora’s Box. The connection to the myth is clear and inescapable but the setting and characters are unique to Stokes-Chapman’s narrative. The author creates a fascinating and detailed world in her vision of London in 1799 and a cast of characters that you can’t help but be drawn to as they unravel the mystery and potential curse of the infamous artifact.
The story is unlike any I’ve seen in a time where Greek retellings seem to fill the shelves of bookstores. As a stand alone novel, Pandora is entertaining, informative and riveting but with the myth of Pandora’s Box woven into the narrative you find yourself escaping into this world and curious how it will all come together in the final chapters. This novel is a breath of fresh air as Susan Stokes-Chapman finds a way to make her mark on well worn territory as she creates her own version of this beloved genre.
Pandora by Susan Stokes-Chapman is out now and available for purchase at your local independent bookstore or wherever fine books are sold.