Pandora - a review by Phoebe Haywood

As a Classics student, I was thrilled to read Pandora, the debut novel of Susan Stokes-Chapman that is bursting with mystery, myth, and intrigue. Set in Georgian London and inspired by the tale of Pandora, this novel holds an elegant and alluring charm.

Aspiring jewellery artist Dora Blake is trapped under the thumb of her cruel uncle, who runs the shameful remnants of her late parents’ respectable antiques emporium. The arrival of a mysterious Greek vase provides an opportunity for Dora to restore the Blake reputation and to escape her uncle. It also holds interest for Edward Lawrence, a hopeful applicant to the Society of Antiquaries. Yet the vase comes with more than Dora bargained for, and secrets are uncovered when the lid is lifted off…

This may be some personal bias creeping in here but first and foremost, I must say that I appreciate the premise of Pandora’s Box – or more accurately, Pandora’s pithos, a type of storage jar more appropriate to the original Greek myth. The novel reflects this, placing the enigmatic object at the heart of the story with its air of dangerous mystique. Yes, of course I was invested in whether it was truly Pandora’s Jar – how could I not be? With each new revelation about its complex history and with each strange occurrence in its proximity, the search for the truth seems to sink ever deeper into the gloom of secrets and deception.

Despite Dora’s namesake, however, this is not a simple retelling of the story. Historically set in 1799, it is a refreshing take on the famous myth, examining the consequences of curiosity from an entirely new angle, with an array of vivid and idiosyncratic characters. The uncle is a particularly marvellous villain – I admit it right now, I hate him and (to risk a cliché) I love to hate him. He is a despicable man and my bloodlust toward him is a guilty pleasure. So sue me.

It's a super book; entranced by the mythical basis, baffled by the mystery, and made apoplectic by the villain, I couldn’t stop turning Pandora’s pages.

Susan Stokes-Chapman will be discussing her debut novel Pandora as a speaker at the New Voices 2022 event at 12pm Sat 23 Apr Methodist Church – I can’t wait!