Give me a World War II novel, and I’m a happy reader. But give me a WWII novel with ties to the Cold War, and I’m over the moon. Lucky for me, Sarah James’ debut novel, The Woman with Two Shadows, is exactly that! This psychological thriller had me hanging on to every word, trying to guess what happens next.
This blog is reader-supported. I earn a small commission from affiliate links in this post when you click on the link (at no cost to you). As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. For more information, visit my legal page.
Lillian has never been the center of attention. Her twin, Eleanor, has always had the looks and the personality. That’s just fine with Lillian because she’s always been intelligent, and soon she’ll be Dr. Lillian Kauffman. She dreams of Harvard on long dreary days in the Physics lab at Columbia, but her sister’s burgeoning acting career threatens to disrupt Lillian’s carefully laid plans.
As tensions rise between the sisters, Lillian makes a choice that threatens to end their relationship for good. When Eleanor discovers her betrayal she’s on the first train out of New York, heading straight for Oak Ridge, a secret Army base in Knoxville, Tennessee, where she’ll live and work to support the war effort. Weeks go by with no word from Eleanor, leaving Lillian desperate for reassurance they are ok. When a call finally comes, it’s the call Lillian dreads most.
Now Eleanor is missing. She’s vanished from the face of the Earth, and no one at the military base seems to know or care what’s happened. Lillian must travel to Oak Ridge in search of her twin, and upon arrival, she realizes finding Eleanor will be harder than she ever imagined. Lillian must do the unthinkable and assume her twin’s identity. That’s the only way to find out what’s happened to her sister and what’s really happening at Oak Ridge.
My Thoughts on The Woman with Two Shadows
The Woman with Two Shadows is exactly what I hoped it would be and more. Not only is it based in my preferred era (World War II), but it features some of my favorite themes: double lives, false identities, betrayal, and ill-fated affairs. James handled these complicated elements with deft skill, leaving me eager to read more of her work. One thing is clear: I’m her ideal audience.
The Woman with Two Shadows takes a worn-out twin plot and gives it new life. We’ve all seen films and television shows featuring twins who reverse rolls. But assuming the identity of a missing twin was new (for me). The juxtaposition between Lillian and Eleanor’s personalities adds a layer of complexity to the role reversal, too. They are completely night and day, making Lillian’s transformation into Eleanor a high-stakes game.
Not particularly likable, Lillian is a character you love to hate. She stabs her sister in the back and is then driven by guilt to make things right. Initially, she’s naive and self-absorbed; but in the face of disaster, she suddenly matures, realizing the error of her ways. Although it’s hard to sympathize with Lillian, the author does a great job creating a relatable character you can still cheer for in the end.
The twists and turns in this book are akin to any contemporary thriller I’ve read. James does a terrific job keeping the reader engaged, adding elements of surprise throughout the novel. Secrets and lies are woven into the center of everything in this book. And the final twist is nothing short of genius!
Lastly, I must give kudos to James for bringing STEM to the forefront in The Woman with Two Shadows. She does a great job representing how unusual and challenging it was for a woman to choose a STEM career path in the 1940s, but she also brings real elements of mathematics and physics into the story. Again, you may not like Lillian as a person, but you still want her to succeed against the odds stacked against her.
My Rating for The Woman with Two Shadows
What a debut! I’m constantly in awe of authors, particularly authors whose debut novel knocks my socks off. While The Woman with Two Shadows won’t be for everyone, overall it’s a strong debut that historical fiction lovers should not miss. I can’t wait to read more from Sarah James in the future!
Before You Go
If you enjoyed this post, then be sure to sign up for my email newsletter where I share updates about the latest reading wrap-ups and blog posts, must-see book deals, and my What This Week series! If email isn’t your thing, head to Bookstagram to follow along for all the bookish fun!