Thursday, March 9, 2023

March Read: The London Seance Society by Sarah Penner

 I've been excitedly anticipating the release of this novel for months. I reviewed her first novel, The Lost Apothecary, in March of 2021. 

Sarah returns to 19th century London in her second novel, and the atmosphere definitely lends itself to seances and things that creep in the dark. Vaudeline D'Allaire is a famous spiritualist living in Paris after leaving London under mysterious circumstances. Lenna Wickes has traveled to Paris to work as an understudy to Vaudeline and learn everything there is to know about conducting a seance. 

The Victorian age saw an explosion of spiritualism, as people became increasingly interested in contacting the dead. It also brought along a lot of charlatans that preyed on grieving families and widows. 

Lenna has an agenda-to discover what happened to her sister Evie, found murdered on All Hallow's Eve the year before. Lenna and Evie were close, but held very different beliefs in the afterlife. Lenna was the logic-based sister, while Evie dove headfirst into spiritualism and started working with Vaudeline to master the art of the seance. Now Lenna has had to set aside her skepticism in order to work with Vaudeline. 

Vaudeline's approach to the occult is very different-she contacts spirits in order to solve crimes-mostly murder. She uses her skills as a tool to speak directly to victims to uncover the killer and name names. She's famous and accurate. 

Vaudeline is called back to London to secretly work with the London Seance Society, a famous spiritual society exclusively run by men. The founder, Mr. Volckman, was found murdered the same night at Evie-All Hallow's Eve. His second in command, Mr. Morley, has written Vaudeline and asked her to return to conduct a seance to reveal the killer. 

Back and forth we see the story from Lenna's point of view, as well as Mr. Morley's. And it's the story from Mr. Morley that slowly fills in pieces of Evie's life before her murder. There is definitely a connection between Lenna, Evie, and the London Seance Society. 

I'll say I liked The Lost Apothecary better out of the two books. However, I did enjoy this novel. It was a bit slow to start, and there is a lot of discussion about the occult and spiritualism practices of the Victorian Era. I definitely felt myself in the setting--atmosphere is spot-on! The plot speeds up once the night of the seance begins, and the last 100 pages are where the story grabbed me and I couldn't put it down. You may feel compelled to light a few candles and lock the door...

Themes include LGBTQ, violence against women, and science vs. belief in the afterlife. The novel also explores the guilt and grief of a sister who didn't get to say goodbye.

Rating: 4/6 for an atmospheric novel about the rise of spiritualism in Victorian England. The tension builds slowly, and there are a few surprises. Strong female characters who take on unsavory men. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

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