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BOOK REVIEW:

The London Séance Society

Lenna Wickes, and her younger sister Evie, are very different people. Lenna is interested in the world and how it works. She has an interest in science, even though she knows that a young lady in Victorian London is not supposed to be interested in such things. Evie, on the other hand, is interested in the spirit world. She is interested in spirits, séances, and the world a step removed from our own. The two sisters regularly taunt and challenge each other on their interests and perspectives of the world.

And then, suddenly, Evie is gone. She is murdered and the police do not seem to have any answers regarding the questions of why Evie died or who killed her. In desperation, Lenna travels to Paris to seek out Vaudeline D’Allaire. She is a noted spiritualist and the person under whom Evie was studying the spirit world. Lenna has many doubts about Vaudeline and her abilities. But she also knows that the woman has a reputation for discovering the identities of murderers by communicating with their victims. Lenna pledges herself as an apprentice to Vaudeline, in the hopes of gaining the skills necessary to learn who killed her sister.

When Vaudeline is asked to return to London to investigate the death of the president of The London Séance Society, Lenna joins her. It turns out the society president, Mr. Volckman, died on All Hallow’s Eve – the same night Evie died. Is it possible that the two deaths are connected somehow? Will Vaudeline be able to identify not one, but two killers?

In The London Séance Society, Sarah Penner, author of 2021’s marvelous The Lost Apothecary, returns to Victorian London with a story of murder, obsession, and secrets, both kept and revealed. She explores Victorian London’s fascination with the paranormal, and how that interest was often subverted and weaponized. She illustrates how the impacts of the spiritualist movement on the larger culture and also how it was approached, and experienced, differently by men and women. She also shows how paranormal interests and activities were one of the few places in Victorian society where women were allowed to have a measure of authority and autonomy. It provided them the opportunity to control their own activities and lives in ways that were simply not acceptable in other areas of polite society.

The mysteries of who killed Evie Wickes and Mr. Volckman provide a marvelous framework for all of this, and culminate in a series of revelations and confrontations that are fantastic in every sense of the word.

 

 

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