Happy almost publish day! I was given Sarah Penner’s The London Séance Society as an ARC after falling in love with her first book The Lost Apothecary (thank you, Harlequin and Netgalley!) While Society was less my style than Apothecary, I still can’t wait to talk all about it!
From the Publisher:
From the author of the sensational bestseller The Lost Apothecary comes a spellbinding tale about two daring women who hunt for truth and justice in the perilous art of conjuring the dead.
1873. At an abandoned château on the outskirts of Paris, a dark séance is about to take place, led by acclaimed spiritualist Vaudeline D’Allaire. Known worldwide for her talent in conjuring the spirits of murder victims to ascertain the identities of the people who killed them, she is highly sought after by widows and investigators alike.
Lenna Wickes has come to Paris to find answers about her sister’s death, but to do so, she must embrace the unknown and overcome her own logic-driven bias against the occult. When Vaudeline is beckoned to England to solve a high-profile murder, Lenna accompanies her as an understudy. But as the women team up with the powerful men of London’s exclusive Séance Society to solve the mystery, they begin to suspect that they are not merely out to solve a crime, but perhaps entangled in one themselves…
What I Loved:
- The History. Society is set in Victorian-era England and France and follows the era of the séance craze. As with most supernatural things throughout the ages, women dominated the fortune telling and seances at this time. I loved how well researched and explained how a séance is performed, what Victorian participants would expect, and common fraudulent practices during seances in this book. Penner lovingly details the steps taken, what a participant would feel during the séance, and the ups and down of the reputations of the spiritualists at this time. She also does a wonderful job of showing the power and degree of freedom women spiritualists had as compared to gentry.
- The Ambiance. Throughout the novel, Lenna and Vaudeline go to places that the deceased Mr. Volckman went to in the depths of a foggy, chilly London. A brothel, an underground wine cellar, and men’s club of dubious reputation, a carriage driver with cryptic warnings, a police officer as “protection” with a checkered past, and the homes of the dead, are the people and places that Lenna encounters. It all adds up to a vivid and atmospheric setting with a hint of the gothic. When the ghosts do make an appearance, it is no surprise. There are ghosts all around this city.
- The End. Obviously cannot elaborate too much. But just know that justice can be served in many ways, and closure can happen in the most eerie of places.
What Didn’t Work for Me:
- The Split Point of View. This book is split into two points of view: Lenna’s and Mr. Morley’s, the Vice President of the London Séance Society. Lenna’s chapters are written in the the third person, the conventional tense for a novel. Mr. Morley’s are written in the first person, which is less conventional but still frequently used. The split in narrative and tenses is frankly confusing and hard to follow, especially on the Kindle. Mr. Morley’s point of view, while informative, felt like a way for Penner to tell the audience about the background of the mystery and multiple big reveals, while not actually adding value to his (or any other) character.
- The Characterizations. Further to the above, I had a hard time connecting to any character – Lenna, Evie, Vaudeline, Mr. Morley, or Mr. Vlockman. The most interesting character is the police officer, and even he is only given the dubious aware of Most Interesting Man in London Séance Society due to his checkered past and penchant for brothels. Unfortunately, all other characters are painted in shades of black and white, their personalities characterized by their worst traits.
- The Pace. The beginning and end of Seance is where this book shines, but the middle is bogged down by waffling emotions and unnecessary backstory. While I know this is a normal occurrence (lag in the middle), this book was a little extreme in the ramp up to the end.
Sarah Penner’s The London Séance Society had its ups and downs, but ultimately was a solid and interesting read with a good mystery and great spooky atmosphere. I would recommend for anyone who enjoys the paranormal and historical fictions. Three waves! Order your copy here (out tomorrow!) and tell me your thoughts!
2 thoughts on “ARC Review: “The London Séance Society,” by Sarah Penner”
You made it sound like something I might like to “take on”–maybe after Spring Break.