It would be hard to find a title more enticing than A Twist of Fate, and as I haven’t read any Joanna Rees before, I had that title and the joy of a new author to whet my appetite for this book. It has one of the most dramatic beginnings I’ve read for a long time. Two babies are exchanged in an illegal deal in East Germany in 1971; one is destined for a good life with loving parents in America, the other is fated to grow up in a German orphanage. The horrific way they are parted and the different lives they are heading towards makes their separation all the more gut-wrenching.
The story follows the two girls, Thea and Romy, as they grow up, their childhoods and teenage years unfolding in startling – sometimes shocking – clarity. Thea grows up in a beautiful New England home called Little Elms, part of the incredibly wealthy Maddox family. She is happy and carefree, surrounded by people that she loves, her business-tycoon father giving her everything she wants. But at eight years old she suffers a tragedy that changes everything. Meanwhile Romy is living as a prisoner in the orphanage, working long hours under brutal guards who, she soon discovers, have plans for the girls as they grow into young women. Early on Romy realises that only she can change her future, and she is determined to get out.
The chapters move alternately between Thea and Romy’s stories. Both are gripping and unpredictable – I got to the end of each chapter desperate to find out what happened next, only to be flung back into the life of the other sister where I would get instantly immersed once more.
The book covers several decades, and Rees masterfully works the popular culture and news events of the period into her writing. There’s a particular event that collides dramatically with Thea’s life that I hadn’t seen coming, but which left me with my heart in my throat! The sisters’ lives take them all over the world, to beautiful villas, bustling cities and snow-covered villages. I had such a strong sense of time and place as I was reading, each new year and location was as vivid as the one before.
Throughout the story, the sisters’ paths cross without them knowing of each other’s existence – as if despite their separation, their connection can never fully be broken. These encounters had me gripping my fists, thinking if only and reading faster, especially as it became clear that neither of them would be able to escape their past.
A Twist of Fate is an epic page-turner. It takes you to the height of opulence and the depths of despair, and shows that growing into a life of privilege doesn’t by any means guarantee happiness. Joanna Rees combines some very hard subject matters with wonderful love stories, spectacular locations and an incredible cast of characters. In the middle of this are the two sisters. Thea and Romy are both believable and loveable, both beautiful; both strong-willed in some ways and insecure in others. I was willing for them to find happiness, and to defy the cruel act that had separated them as babies and find each other. I loved this book, and, while I won’t have that new author excitement when Joanna Rees’ next book comes out, I’ll be picking it up just as quickly – if not quicker.
MORE ABOUT A TWIST OF FATE (OUT AUGUST 2ND)