Garden of Shadows (Dollanganger #5), by V.C. Andrews

Eight stars

With all the drama of the Dollanganger saga done, it would seem that everything is as it should be. However, how did it all start and what led to such a fire and brimstone sentimentality that Bart ended up exuding upon reading his great-grandfather’s journals? V.C. Andrews answers this in this final instalment, a prequel of sorts, that takes that story far into the past, before things got out of hand. Olivia Winfield was a quiet girl, though her height and gangly nature made her more wholesome than attractive to many. The daughter of a successful businessman, Olivia was without a mother to guide her as she came of age. When Malcolm Foxworth came calling one day, Olivia was surprised that he would pay her any attention. Their whirlwind romance soon led to a wedding and Olivia’s move from Connecticut to Foxworth Hall in Virginia. When she arrived at this mansion, Olivia was in awe and it took her a while to absorb it all. She began to learn that all the servants and formal processes were only part of what she will have to learn, as Malcolm had a strong affinity for his departed mother, a woman who fled the family when he was all of five years of age. In time, Olivia and Malcolm welcomed two boys into the house, Mal and Joel, though both wished for a daughter. It is only when surprise houseguests arrive that the household got a great deal more interesting. With the arrival of Garland Foxworth, Malcolm is excited to see his father back, though he brought along a new bride of only eighteen. Alicia was young and quite clueless as to the ways of the world. She was also pregnant, meaning that Malcolm would soon have a half-sibling close to his children’s age. As Olivia tried to bond with Alicia, she discovered that there were some troubling aspects to the young woman’s life. It would seem Foxworth men have wiles that cannot be ignored, though their ability to win over the ladies was second to none. After Garland passed away, Malcolm reluctantly agreed to let Alicia stay in the house, now the mother to a little baby boy, Christopher. Given her own wing of the house, Alicia was left to wallow in the memory of her lost husband, all but incapable of caring for her son. When Olivia discovered that Alicia is being taken advantage of by Malcolm, she could not sit idly by, though there was little she could do to stop his antics. Locked away in the attic, Alicia became the first prisoner ever kept there, away from the eyes of others, at least until Olivia could put her plan into action. With a new child in the house, Corinne, the family expanded and Malcolm showed a troubling affinity towards her, favouring Corrine over the other children in the house. As Olivia grew older and watched her children mature, the family suffered other tragedies, hinted at in other books within the series. With this knowledge, Olivia became more jaded and heartless, transforming into the woman series fans came to know throughout the Dollanganger novels. A wonderfully written prequel that does lay the groundwork for much of the series, yet still full of wonderful twists that most readers would not have seen coming.

V.C. Andrews brings this highly controversial series to a close by opening the door to how it all began, if that makes any sense. The series is situated within the ‘young adult horror’ genre, but the plots have been able to hold my attention without getting too corny. In this book, the reader discovers much of the needed foundational information about the Foxworth family and how they came to hold such animosity. There are wonderful vignettes that put much of the concerns from the first two Dollanganger books into perspective here. OIivia finally gets her time in the limelight, giving the reader some time to get to know more about her. While the series fan knows her as The Grandmother, there is much more to her than the ruthless matriarch who wants nothing to do with the Dollangangers. Olivia enters life as a Foxworth with much hope, though it is dashed as soon as she discovers that Malcolm is highly duplicitous. Olivia shows some of her own conniving nature, which she justifies as protecting the family name. The attentive reader will be in for some wonderful and impactful surprises throughout, giving Olivia Foxworth new dimensions. Others who play key roles in the story help to create a wonderful narrative that fills the reader with wonder and confusion, particularly Malcolm Foxworth. His move to being highly religious and moralistic comes over time, though there are certainly some justified occurrences that push him in that direction. With a handful of other characters who reemerge throughout the series, this opening book proves to be highly intriguing. Set as an addendum to Olivia’s will, one can suppose that this novel is both a prequel and later revelation in the series, putting much in order that may not have been known beforehand. The surprises are plentiful and the story flows quite well, without much of the drama embedded in the rest of the series. The reader will be able to piece this all together and enjoy learning about some of the happenings that laid the groundwork for the banishment of the twins to the attic in the opening chapters of Flowers in the Attic. A great read that shows V.C. Andrews plotted this entire series out well before her death soon after this novel’s original publication.

Kudos, Madam Andrews, for allowing me a chance to see how the entire Dollanganger/Foxworth drama began and developed. While I have even surprised myself with how enthused I was to read it, I cannot deny it was an intriguing ride and one I would recommend to the patient reader who can sift through some corny plots.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: