Book Reviews

Book Review: The London Séance Society

By Sarah Penner

Published March 2023

350 Pages

Lenna Wickes places her faith in science-backed logic.  Her sister, Evie, embraced the unknown of the occult and spiritualism.  When Evie is murdered, Lenna sets her own beliefs aside and seeks out her sister’s mentor, the renowned medium Vaudeline D’Allaire.  Working as Vaudeline’s apprentice, Lenna tries to tap into Evie’s faith in the spirit world, hoping to one day contact her sister and find her killer.

When Vaudeline is asked to investigate the death of the head of the London Seance Society, a mens-only club of the occult, Lenna accompanies her from Paris back to London.  As the two women prepare for the seance, clues arise that point to fraudulent practices with the Society and that also place Evie in close contact with the club.  Was Evie a fraud or a true believer?  And how far did the Society’s practices go in deceiving their grieving clients?

I almost passed on this read since I wasn’t a huge fan of Penner’s last novel, The Lost Apothecary.  I’m happy to report that this one rated much higher for me.  While still written in alternating points of view, this novel was more of a mystery and not a women’s fiction time-slip.  With both narratives happening simultaneously, the storylines were strongly connected to each other – a connection I found lacking in Penner’s 2022 release.

“The London Seance Society” interpreted by Wombo Dream

What I liked: The investigation into spiritualist practices during the mid-Victorian period.  There’s so much fodder for stories during the spiritualist movement’s heyday.  This one took a darker turn, going well beyond the use of fake ectoplasm and ventriloquism to convince clients that their dear departed spirits were communicating with them.  It was interesting that Lenna’s perception that anything not based on science was false lessened rather than grew as she learned of fraudulent practices employed by some mediums.  Her own growing intuition was a great counterbalance in her character arc.

From the get-go, Morley was a creepy character.  Even though the Society’s attitude toward women, as inferior and victims to be fleeced, was not unusual for the time period, it was difficult to read.  This is the second book I’ve finished recently that has shown men in a historically unflattering light, and I think that’s a good thing.  Not to bash men, but to be historically accurate (my husband would disagree).

The only thing I didn’t like is that a lot of what was revealed was fairly evident early on.  As well, Lenna was more passive than I’d have liked.  She took the bold step of going to Paris to seek out Vaudeline, but was so slow to act at other times, making her a source of frustration for me on more than one occasion. Granted, if she acted and thought the way I’d have written her, a lot of the plot wouldn’t have unfolded the way it did, which in the end led to a satisfying conclusion. 

Final rating: 3.5/5 stars ⭐⭐⭐+

Until next time, thank you for visiting.

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