"Pandora" | Reviewed by Diane Disbro
“Pandora,” by Susan Stokes Chapman, is a clever blend of mythology, archaeology, and life at the end of the 18th century England. The author did the research and faithfully portrays the fascination with archaeological finds and the struggle to maintain a clear line of provenance that still exists today.
Archaeological digs in Greece appear in flashbacks when the heroine's parents and wicked uncle are searching for the original of Pandora's Box, the basis for the Pandora myth. The "box" is really a jar. A very large jar. After being excavated, the jar is stolen and ends up at the bottom of the sea. The wicked uncle recovers it and hides it before trying to sell it on the black market. Whether the jar is cursed is a question that is left up to the reader to decide after several people who come in contact with it die.
The heroine, Pandora, who is usually called Dora, has lived with her uncle since her parents died when she was 8-years-old. She is now 21 and wants to support herself by designing jewelry so that she can escape from her loveless home. Her uncle has run the antiquary business, left to him at the death of Dora's parents, into the ground and Dora is desperate to escape from her attic room above the shop.
The dirt and rigid class structure of 18th century England come alive in Stokes-Chapman's descriptions. The contrast between the filth along the River Thames and the opulence of the homes of the rich in London is jarring. It also is quite clear that a shop girl is out of place when invited to a party at the home of a rich patroness who has purchased one of her jewelry designs.
Dora is an abused orphan. The man who throws his lot in with hers, to find out the truth behind the jar and Dora's wicked uncle's business, also is an abused orphan. The story may have been stronger if that overworked trope hadn't been used. But the book was fun to read and was hard to put down when I needed to attend to real life. I recommend it to readers who like a mystery with a strong setting in the past.