Jeanie is all set to start a brand new life. Having been swept of her feet by Matthew King, she moves herself and her son in with him, getting set to marry Matthew and become stepmother to his twin children, Scarlett and Luke. Jeanie has dream of them being the perfect family, ala ‘The Brady Bunch’ and yet as she starts to settle into her new home, Jeanie can see this will be anything but perfect. Scarlett is distant and hostile towards her and no matter what Jeanie tries she cannot get her to accept the new relationships. To complicate matters further, Scarlett has a crush on Frankie, putting Frankie and Matthew at odds and adding to the tension in the household.
But there is something more going on than first meets the eye. Jeanie has a secret, one she has kept from Matthew, even now they are married. And someone is leaving messages for Jeanie; words written in steam on mirrors; letter sent anonymously; dead animals left on the door step. All of them designed with one thing in mind. To drive Jeanie out of the family home. As Matthew becomes increasingly distant and Jeanie’s behaviour seemingly more erratic, is there anything left to be done to save this perfect little family?
‘The Stepmother’ is an interesting story. While not wholly unique (let’s face it – the concept of conflict as two families become one is not knew) the parallels drawn throughout the story to Snow White and her relationship with her Stepmother, told here in the very unique voice of Jeanie’s sister Marlena’ so keep the pace up. Marlena turns the whole idea of the wicked stepmother on its head, forcing people to question if the Stepmother was as bad as everyone made out. And the same has to be asked of Jeanie. What secret is she hiding? What is so terrible she cannot tell her husband? Is she really going crazy or is someone just trying to make it that way. There are many unanswered questions in the first half of the book that do keep you turning the page to find out just what is going on.
For me, this was one of the problems. The reveal of Jeanie’s secret seemed to take too long, and I found myself getting frustrated and tempted to turn the pages a little too quickly, just to get it out there. I didn’t, and I’m glad I didn’t, but in the end, with the magnitude of the secret, you have to wonder how anyone could be so naïve to think that they could ever have the perfect relationship and the perfect family when it is all based on secrets and lies. It pushed the story just that little bit too far towards fantasy.
There were some elements of the story referred to throughout which seemed to be squeezed in, particularly the history with Simon. It felt disconnected from the main story, and while it probably links into the history of Jeanie’s character and the decision she takes at the end, I don’t think it needed to be in there at all. Perhaps it was an attempt at misdirection, but it didn’t quite work for me and felt rushed in its execution. If the reveal on the secret had been quicker, perhaps this element of the story could have been better fleshed out.
That said, the writing and character development throughout was good. Marlena was a very street smart and sassy character, a complete contrast to her timid older sister Jeanie, and it made the situation Jeanie was in more real in comparison. The description of the creepy old house made it easier to believe some of the strange happenings, even if Luke’s ghost story was a little far-fetched, and the house became and antagonist in its own right. Even the great mirror, the one thing that the wicked Stepmother in Snow White had relied upon, acted as a threat to Jeanie, a thing, much as in Snow White, in which she saw her own fears manifested.
I did enjoy the story. The writing was fluid and the concept was a good one. It is a typical struggle, trying to fit into a new family, a new life. Making new friends. Stepping into the shoes of the pushy, brassy and ever present ex-wife. Struggling to gain the trust of children who are damaged from having seen their parents’ marriage fall apart. I can’t say I was surprised to learn who was responsible for Jeanie’s woes, but Seeber has created an interesting cast of characters, and a story which was able to keep me engaged until the end.
My thanks to Net Galley and publishers Bookouture for the ARC of ‘The Stepmother’ by Claire Seeber in exchange for my review.
The StepMother is available to order here: