The London Séance Society by Sarah Penner, Review: Atmospheric
The London Séance Society is a new atmospheric historical fiction novel from Sarah Penner, the first since her breakout 2021 debut, The Lost Apothecary. Read my full review.
The London Séance Society Book Synopsis
Amid the shrouded parlours of Victorian London, two daring women 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…
Written with alluring suspense and sultry prose, The London Séance Society is an entrancing tale that explores the blurred lines between truth and illusion, and reveals the grave risks women will take to avenge the ones they love.
(HQ Fiction, March 2023)
Genre: Mystery, Historical, Drama, Crime-Detective, Romance
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You do not need to be a ‘believer’ to enjoy this historical mystery novel. In fact, more often than not, this title speaks to the sceptics. In The London Seance Society, Penner has balanced tacit ridicule of the charlatans and naivety of the Victorian society that cultivated them with deep compassion for the individuals so grief-stricken that they fell prey to them. But that was not her only choice regarding story perspective that I found curious.
This story narrative alternates between the third-person perspective of an at times feisty, sceptical and grieving Lenna Wickes and the first-person perspective of a London Seance Society member. At first, I found the enforced detachment with the story protagonist alongside the uncommon intimacy with a character of indeterminate alliances unsettling. But I soon realised it was this unsettling tension, along with the electricity between the two women battling multiple forces unseen, that propels this story along.
“How ironic, she thought, the mention of seance etched into the fossil-studded stone. Two sides of the dead, the illusory and the tangible.”
While not without a refreshing twist and vivid descriptions of gothic Victorian-era characters, readers’ enjoyment of The London Seance Society will depend on their reading mood; specifically their appetite for escapism and entertaining crime mystery tropes. For me, Sarah Penner’s second novel was a very enjoyable read.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5
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More The London Séance Society reviews
“Penner has conjured up another winner. Bristling with tension and featuring strong women who aren’t afraid to defy conventions, this gothic mystery is both smart and seductive. Haunting in the best of ways, I swear I could feel the London fog on my cheek (or was that a spirit…) as I flew through the pages.” —Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author of The Magnolia Palace
“Penner delivers another captivating feminist gothic tale.” — Publishers Weekly
“The novel is never overly sentimental. Instead, it finds its strength in solid character development, a riveting mystery, and the fun that encourages us to seek out tarot cards, ouija boards and palm readers. — BookReporter
About the Author, Sarah Penner
Sarah Penner is the New York Times bestselling author of The Lost Apothecary. She works full-time in finance and is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. She and her husband live in St. Petersburg, Florida, with their miniature dachshund, Zoe. To learn more, visit sarahpenner.com.
* My receiving a copy of The London Seance Society from the publisher for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions.