The Phoenix Bride

A Novel

Paperback

March 12, 2024 | ISBN 9780593597873

Ebook

March 12, 2024 | ISBN 9780593597880

Audiobook Download

March 12, 2024 | ISBN 9780593668771

About the Book

“Poetic, romantic, and steeped in seventeenth-century London, The Phoenix Bride is historical fiction at its best.”—Mackenzi Lee, New York Times bestselling author of The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

A passionate tale of plague, fire, and forbidden love from the acclaimed author of Solomon’s Crown

It is 1666, one year after plague has devastated England. Young widow Cecilia Thorowgood is a prisoner, trapped and isolated within her older sister’s cavernous London townhouse. At the mercy of a legion of doctors trying to cure her grief with their impatient scalpels, Cecilia shows no sign of improvement. Soon, her sister makes a decision born of desperation: She hires a new physician, someone known for more unusual methods. But he is a foreigner. A Jew. And despite his attempts to save Cecilia, he knows he cannot quell the storm of sorrow that rages inside her. There is no easy cure for melancholy.

David Mendes fled Portugal to seek a new life in London, where he could practice his faith openly and leave the past behind. Still reeling from the loss of his beloved friend and struggling with his religion and his past, David is free and safe in this foreign land but incapable of happiness. The security he has found in London threatens to disappear when he meets Cecilia, and he finds himself torn between his duty to medicine and the beating of his own heart. He is the only one who can see her pain; the glimmers of light she emits, even in her gloom, are enough to make him believe once more in love.

Facing seemingly insurmountable challenges, David and Cecilia must endure prejudice, heartbreak, and calamity before they can be together. The Great Fire is coming—and with the city in flames around them, love has never felt so impossible.
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Praise for The Phoenix Bride

“Poetic, romantic, and steeped in seventeenth-century London, The Phoenix Bride is historical fiction at its best. Natasha Siegel's prose had me hypnotized, and I savored every page of this breathless, forbidden love story.”—Mackenzi Lee, New York Times bestselling author of The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

“An emotional tale of star-crossed lovers . . . will keep readers breathless.”Shelf Awareness

“Set in 17th-century London, this sumptuous romance tells the story of two star-crossed lovers drawn together under tumultuous circumstances. . . . Narrated in alternating points of view and featuring diversity along multiple axes, including religion and LGBTQIA+ identity, this lyrically written and utterly romantic novel from [Natasha] Siegel will appeal to readers of historical fiction and epic love stories.”Library Journal, starred review

“A breathtakingly beautiful novel about forbidden love in 17th-century London. . . . This book will break you open with its beautiful writing, and readers will find themselves wringing their hands, wondering how on earth David and Cecilia could ever be together. . . . A gorgeous romance about healing from trauma, making peace with grief and finding love where it doesn’t seem possible. This glorious follow-up to her debut, Solomon’s Crown, firmly establishes Siegel as a writer to watch.”BookPage, starred review

“A desolate widow finds new hope and forbidden romance in this poignant and commendably diverse historical. . . . Siegel sets this sweeping, emotional story apart by focusing on the experiences of people often overlooked in historical romance. The results are genuinely moving.”Publishers Weekly

“With rich prose and a plethora of delightful period details, shifting between Cecilia’s and David’s first-person perspectives, the story deftly explores their feelings of unlikely connection, as well as the isolation and hopelessness that can accompany loss of a loved one. . . . A well-crafted and enchanting historical love story.”Kirkus Reviews
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Excerpt

The Phoenix Bride

Chapter One

Cecilia


Three springs had passed since the king’s return to England, when I married William Thorowgood. I loved him, and still love him, as a swallow loves the wind.

It was the first marriage in my family since my sister’s two years beforehand, and I was terrified and exuberant in equal measure. I felt as if I were weightless, as if too heavy a breath would send me spinning down the aisle. Meanwhile, Will was blissful and unafraid. He had always lived a life unflinching; his love for me was not diminished by the promise of its permanency. As the priest droned his sacrament, Will linked his hand in mine, and he drew his thumb over my palm in a silent vow.

We returned to the Thorowgood manor afterward to celebrate. I was wearing a gown of eggshell blue, pink pearl earrings, columbine woven into my hair. Will had a handsome navy coat and a gap-­toothed grin. He’d never been graceful; he couldn’t have danced well if the king’s head had depended upon it. He whisked me about the grass like a housemaid with a broom. The musicians were breathless trying to keep up.

“I can hardly believe I have you, Cecilia,” he said as we spun across the daisies.

I could hardly believe I had him, either. Will was radiant that day, hair glinting guinea gold in the sunlight; I felt as if I held a treasure, one all the more precious for having almost slipped away. This marriage had once been intended for my sister, Margaret. Now she was watching and smiling from the crowd. Her husband—­sneering, pork-­faced Robert Eden—­loomed behind her. He was wealthier and more high blooded than anyone else present, and his proposal to my sister had led to the dissolution of her betrothal to Will. Now I was marrying him in her stead. I pitied her for the loss, but I was grateful for the gift fate had given me.

I was far more grateful than sorry, and perhaps that was a sin of mine.

After the dance, we staggered to the cake, panting and laughing. I took a second slice, and then a third. At the table, I fell into competition with Will’s younger brother to see who could eat more. The second of five, Will was named for his grandfather, but his siblings were all burdened with virtue names. After his sisters—­Pleasance, Clemency, and Honor—­the well of inspiration ran dry, and the youngest was saddled with the delightfully terrible Good Thorowgood. Good was a sweet boy, if overcompetitive. He was fourteen years old at the time, and he had the stomach of a half-starved whale. He would have beaten me soundly, but by the fourth slice of cake, we were both giggling too much to swallow.

The combination of wine, food, and joy soon overwhelmed me. I’ve always had a sensitive stomach; I ran off to be sick in the heather. As I stood and wiped my mouth, I found my sister hovering at my shoulder. She rubbed my back, saying, “Temperance, Cecilia.”

“Hush, hush,” I breathed, half laughing. I leaned into her and dropped my head to her shoulder. “There are other days for temperance than this.”

“You shall take ill.”

“I already did.” I gestured to the bushes. “And now, I am not.”

“You are not?”

“Ill. I feel as well as any woman could.”

Margaret smiled at me, indulgent, petting my hair. “You are overjoyed,” she said. “Overwined, overfed, overloved.”

“Contented.”

“Yes.”

“I am sick with contentment, Maggie,” I said. “I must be happier than the king himself. Restored! Just as he is. We are all restored now, are we not? Our family, pulled from the ashes?”

“Of course,” she replied. But when I turned and saw her face, her teeth were worrying into her lower lip.

“You are upset,” I said. “What is it? Are you unwell? Your menses?”

She was prone to such troubles: stuttered courses, painful cramping, even the cruelty of phantom pregnancies. It burdened her, and I was one of few she was willing to speak to of it. But this time, she said, “No, it isn’t that.”

“Then what?”

“Don’t trouble yourself upon your wedding day.”

“What’s the matter?”

“It is only—­soon I shall go to London with Robert, but you will be here, without me.”

“We will visit.”

She replied, “Yes, I hope so. If you are not too distracted by your new husband.”

“I will miss you, also, you know,” I told her. “Of course I will. Forgive me for not saying so earlier.”

She sighed, pale lashes creeping like frost over the planes of her cheeks. “You needn’t apologize,” she said. “God made us two, and in doing so gave part to me, and part to you. It often feels as if I am missing some of myself when we are apart. I suspect it will always be so.” She took my hands. “Regardless, here is my advice to you, Cecilia, on your wedding day: Allow yourself happiness. Feel worthy of this, and worthy for all that comes after. You and Will deserve each other. You deserve a good life together. You have waited so long for it.”

I smiled at her. “Thank you.”

Margaret led me by my wrist back to the crowd. When we saw Will, she pushed me toward him; the shove was strong enough that I stumbled, and everyone laughed. We danced again together. Then Will pulled me away, to the other side of the gardens. Others smirked at us, but no one intervened. He kissed me by the rosebushes until I could hardly breathe.

“I am glad to be alone with you finally,” he said. “I have missed you desperately.”

I swatted his shoulder. “It’s only been a week since we saw each other last. And now you will see me always.”

“Our bed is newly made upstairs.”

“We can’t leave.”

“Yes, I know.” He ran his hands through his hair, and he grinned at me. “You provide me much distraction.”

I tugged at his collar. “I like you in blue, Master Thorowgood.”

“And I you, Mistress Thorowgood,” he replied.

We giggled together at that, giddy. Will kissed my cheek. “Do you think it was fate that led us here?” he asked me.

“Fate, or Robert Eden.”

“I never thought I would be glad of such a man. But for so long, I believed that I would love you from afar.”

“But now, you will not,” I said.

“Now, I will not,” he echoed. “And there is no man in En­gland as happy as I.”

Flushing, I kissed him again to silence him. Will had been in possession of a constant earnestness, an insistent, innocent honesty, which had always disarmed me. His happiness often seemed greater and more genuine than mine could ever be.

We returned to the house. At our entrance, Margaret—­who had been keeping court at the center of the foyer—­clapped her hands together. Beside her stood a canvas upon an easel, covered with white cloth. She said, delighted, “Come, Thorowgoods! The portrait must be unveiled!”

I have always had a poor estimation of my appearance, particularly when painted, and it was with some reluctance that I pulled the cloth from our wedding portrait. Still, it was a fair thing, a kind thing: I looked much like Margaret in it, enough that we might have passed as identical. We were born just fifteen minutes apart, and yet we bore only a passing resemblance—­not so in the portrait, however. The painter had lightened my hair, almost enough to match hers and Will’s. My nose had been made smaller, my mouth bigger. My eyes were bluer than they are in reality. I was pretty, but there was no life within me; I looked very much like a painting, and very little like a woman. Will’s likeness, meanwhile, was all sunlight and splendor. He had a face born for portraiture. He seemed as if he would burst from the canvas and take me in his arms.

The guests cooed and applauded. Will said, delighted, “A fair picture! Don’t you agree, Cecilia?”

“A good likeness,” I lied.

Satisfied, Margaret—­who had paid for the portrait as a wedding gift—­instructed its placement upon the wall. We returned to the banquet afterward for the final toast. By then, Will and I were itching for the others to leave. It was a great relief when the guests trickled out, one by one, until only my sister remained. She embraced me.

“I am so glad,” she told me. “Be happy, Cecilia. You are blessed.”

About the Author

Natasha Siegel
Natasha Siegel is the author of Solomon’s Crown, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. She was born and raised in London, where she grew up in a Danish-Jewish family surrounded by stories. Her poetry has won accolades from the University of Oxford. More by Natasha Siegel
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