Book Review: The Phantom Tree


Author: Nicola Cornick
Publisher: Graydon House
ISBN: 9781525805998
Genre: Historical | Time Travel


My name is Mary Seymour and I am the daughter of one queen and the niece of another.”

Browsing antiques shops in Wiltshire, Alison Bannister stumbles across a delicate old portrait—supposedly of Anne Boleyn. Except Alison knows betterThe woman is Mary Seymour, the daughter of Katherine Parr who was taken to Wolf Hall in 1557 as an unwanted orphan and presumed dead after going missing as a child.

The painting is more than just a beautiful object from Alison’s past—it holds the key to her future, unlocking the mystery surrounding Mary’s disappearance, and the enigma of Alison’s son.

But Alison’s quest soon takes a dark and foreboding turn, as a meeting place called the Phantom Tree harbours secrets in its shadows


THE PHANTOM TREE by Nicola Cornick has a little of everything in it, but far from being an utter mess, it all kind of works—sorta. It helps if you’re already familiar with shows like, OUTLANDER. As The Phantom Tree features time travel, a historic Tudor—think Elizabeth I—setting, and in a roll reversal, someone not trapped in the past. But one of our two MCs, Alison, who’s trapped in our present.

I picked this one up on a whim at my local bookstore looking for something different to read—because, as you all know, I was in a bit of a reading slump—and once I’d read the back cover:

We met at Wolf Hall.
I came there in the summer of fifteen hundred and fifty-seven,
in the fourth year of the reign of Mary the Queen.
I was a Mary too, cousin to the late king, Edward,
daughter to one dead queen and niece to another.
I was ten years old and I already had a reputation for witchcraft.”

Now doesn’t that sound intriguing? I thought so. And yes, I stood in the shop and read the first chapter, you know, just to be sure. And that was that, I was hooked.

I thoroughly enjoyed the historical setting, which is where we start, and where Mary Seymour and Alison Banestre, another orphan like Mary, meet at the historic Wolf Hall. This was, up to a point, shaping up to be another historical romp but then, took a turn. I’m not sure if it was for the worse, or not. As we find out that Mary has the ‘Sight‘ and is struck at odd moments, inconveniently, with ‘visions’ that are, in the end, portents of events that then take place.

Immediately the young Mary is labelled a witch, and there’s a lot of the usual political plotting, and, as such, because of her heritage and once high standing, she’s not just beheaded (and end the story) she’s dispatched to a distant—very distant—relative to be kept out of the way.

While all this is happening Alison, who’s 4-5 years older than Mary, is struggling with her own problems, stupidly falling in love with her distant cousin, and Lord of the Manor, Edward Seymour, who takes advantage of her. And, at the tender young age of 16, finds herself pregnant.

It’s when the two are on the cusp of being banished together, to Middlecote, that Alison runs away, and their stories split.

We’ve had hints of how Alison is able to get away, because, like Mary, who’s having unwanted visions, Alison herself has been experiencing something unusual. But unlike the young Mary, sees these events/happenings as a way to escape her life … and she steps from the past, into the future; our present.

Despite a few hiccups, and seeming inconsistencies, I still enjoyed the story to that point, but then, I found I was enjoying Mary’s story more, set in the 1560s, more so than Alison’s, who’s seemingly adapted very easily to our time, and even found herself in an on and off-again relationship—though that too was handled well.

My one gripe was the way the author chose to close Mary’s thread, though, in the end, and not spoilt it for anyone, Mary did get the last word in, so to speak.

Personally, I know this is supposed to be Alison’s story, but I think I would have enjoyed it just as much if the author had skipped Alison altogether, and made this all about Mary. That aspect for me, was so much more enjoyable.

All in all, Cornick did a great job of story telling with two likeable enough characters, that will appeal to those looking for a historical mystery with time travelling aspects, and a good dash of romance.

Rating: 7 / 10

Previous Book Haul Happiness
Next Flower Power


  1. April 8, 2019

    I’d say your “whim” paid off. I do like good historical fiction from time to time. And time travel can be fun, too, if done well!

    • April 8, 2019

      It wasn’t a great read, but it was a fun one, Naomi. It had all the right ingredients, and great story telling, even if some of the historical details were a little, eh, suspect. 😀

  2. April 1, 2019

    I enjoyed this one too Alex. I read and reviewed it in Jan. 2019 and rated it 9/10 (so perhaps I liked it a wee bit more than you). It is funny, but although I dislike ‘fantasy’ books I DO LIKE time travel novels. One of my myriad little quirks.

    • April 1, 2019

      I would have rated it higher but for a few missteps, Lynne. One was the abrupt ending to Mary’s story, and then a few other little inconsistencies. But I’ll definitely read more from her, because I think she’s a really good storyteller.

  3. March 29, 2019

    I don’t usually like time traveling stories Alexandra with a few exceptions (What the Wind Knows from Amy Harmon being one) but I certainly love a good historical story! Glad this one got a 7/10 as it’s maybe the end of your slump?

    • Alexandra
      March 29, 2019

      I hope so too, Sophie. It was certainly a quick read and took me just a couple of sitting, as I was so absorbed into the twined stories. Though not as good as THE LOCKSMITH’S DAUGHTER, which was an outstanding read. Nonetheless, it got the job done.

  4. Time travel makes my head hurt sometimes LOL but I’m happy to hear you enjoyed this one. The dreaded reading slump is the worst! Mine in February felt like it lasted foreeeeever so hopefully this marks the end of yours!

    • March 29, 2019

      I think maybe I did this novel a disservice saying it was time travel because, Christina. As I mention above, it’s more that one character get’s displaced rather than is travelling back and forth in time. But all in all, it was a fun read.

      And yeah, I’m so glad to be over my slump which felt long enough but was, in fact, only just a couple of weeks, if that.

  5. I’m not familiar with Outlander… but I kind of read over anything political anyway :-). That and time travel would be enough not to pick this one up, normally… if I hadn’t read your review that is. I’m setting my first steps into historical fiction and you make me think I could enjoy this one, I actually like the sound of a past and present thread. Thanks for your review Alex!

    • March 29, 2019

      Oh, I hear you Inge. I’m not big on present politics, but history? Oh, I do love me a good juicy historical, and this one was, for the most part, well written, and thoroughly enjoyable.

      To be honest, it was almost more a romance than anything, with historical over-tones, that had one character displaced in time. If that makes sense.

  6. March 29, 2019

    Oh, glad to hear you found a book you enjoyed 🙂 Maybe the end of the reading slump?
    I don’t particularly like time travel stories, they make me kinda anxious for some reason… 😀

    • March 29, 2019

      It’s not much of a time travel story, which is probably why I didn’t mind it either, Norrie. As that’s not my usual cup of tea. As it turns out, this was a good offering, because, for the most part, it was set in two distinct periods, that ran concurrent.

      And strangely enough, I really enjoyed the read. Go figure. 😀

Leave a reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *