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Alyxandra Harvey – Haunting Violet

July 11, 2011

86. Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey (2011)

Length: 344 pages
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Ghost Story

Started: 28 June 2011
Finished: 30 June 2011

Where did it come from? From Bloomsbury Teen for review.
Why do I have it? I really enjoy Alyxandra Harvey’s vampire series, The Drake Chronicles, so I was definitely interested in reading her new stand-alone novel.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 27 June 2011.

Violet’s spent her life
seeing fake ghosts, but can she
deal with a real one?

Summary: Violet Willoughby has seen too much to believe in ghosts. Her mother is a medium – a fake medium, that is – who uses the standard set of tricks to convince the spiritualism-crazed members of London society that she actually can communicate with the dead. Violet’s tired of the lies, but knows that revealing the truth would send her and her mother back into the gutter, so she goes along with it, despite knowing that there are no real ghosts. But then at a retreat at the country estate of Lord Jasper, a prominent spiritualist, Violet starts seeing things that can’t be real: most prominently, the transparent figure of a pale young woman, who inflicts Violet with terrible visions of drowning. Violet realizes that this must be the ghost of Rowena, the heir to the neighboring estate, who died in a tragic yet mysterious accident the previous year. But as Rowena ghost grows more and more insistent, Violet starts to think that it might not have been an accident after all… and the spirits of the dead will give her no rest until she uncovers the truth.

Review: While I’ve mostly grown out of my pre-teen and teenage fascination with horror novels, I still like a good ghost story now and again, and if it’s a Victorian ghost story with a pinch of romance, so much the better. Haunting Violet is a solid ghost story/murder mystery, and is one of those books that I absolutely would have devoured as a teen. As an adult, it didn’t quite bowl me over, but was certainly an enjoyable read.

Although I knew before I started that Harvey was adept at writing historical fiction – sections of Blood Feud are set in the French Revolution – she’s so good at writing modern, action-packed, snarky-banter-heavy stories that it took me a while to get into Haunting Violet‘s quieter, more historical tone. I don’t mean to imply that this book is lacking in action; on the contrary, the plot keeps up a swift pace throughout, with plenty of small touches of humor. But as interesting as fake séances are, they just don’t get the heart pounding in the same way as a giant bloody vampire battle, y’know?

I also thought that this book had too many living characters, and not enough dead ones. It hews fairly closely to murder mystery conventions, complete with attempts on the detective’s life and a rash of sudden suspicious behavior from all involved. That’s all well and good, but I felt like there were a few too many suspects for any one of them to make a particularly effective red herring, and I figured out the murderer pretty early on. I also wish there had been more ghosts other than Rowena. There are a few effectively creepy scenes in which Violet is surrounded by ghosts, all of them demanding something from her, but for the most part she only has fleeting contact with a few ghosts other than the drowned girl. I felt like the story could have used a supernatural subplot to add some emotional heft and to balance things out. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: All things considered, this book provided a solid, creepy, atmospheric ghost story that kept me reading past my bedtime. Recommended for fans of Victorian spiritualism in fiction, teen ghost stories, and if I could send a copy backwards in time, my 13-year-old self.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Links: Read an excerpt

Other Reviews: All About {n}, Lauren’s Crammed Bookshelf, My Favourite Books, and many more at the Book Blog Search Engine.

First Line: I was nine years old when my mother decided it was time I took part in the family business.

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. July 11, 2011 8:11 am

    A paucity of suspects is not necessarily a bad thing – John Dickson Carr’s ‘The Mystery of the Green Capsule’, for example, has only three serious suspects, but there are quite a number of red herrings.

    This book sounds quite interesting, though.

    • July 11, 2011 11:52 am

      Ela – I guess what I meant was that there were so many people that were acting sort of shady, but for most of the book nobody was acting shady *enough* to be a serious suspect.

  2. July 11, 2011 10:45 am

    This book sounds interesting. I will have to keep it in mind!

  3. July 11, 2011 11:44 am

    I’m not a big fan of horror books, actually I’m not a big fan of horror anything because I watched my first horror movie with seven and it almost traumatized me, but I think I’ll try this one.

    • July 11, 2011 11:56 am

      carolina – I’m not a fan of horror either – as a teen I tore through R. L. Stine and Christopher Pike, but I don’t read much stuff that could really be called “horror” nowadays. I usually put ghost stories under “horror”, since there’s no better fit in my classification scheme, but this book is pretty mild in terms of actual scary stuff, so I think you’ll be fine.

  4. July 11, 2011 1:05 pm

    I love a good ghost story and seem to be reading a lot of them this year for some reason so I may have to look into this one. I was also sold on the cover — I’m a sucker for anything purple…

    • July 12, 2011 11:46 am

      Amy – I had a fairly purple month last month, actually. Well, this and A Clash of Kings. :)

  5. July 11, 2011 3:22 pm

    It sounds like you still enjoyed this one a lot. I have a feeling the target audience would love it.

    • July 12, 2011 11:47 am

      Kathy – For sure! I liked it quite a bit now, but I would have LURVED it as an early teen.

  6. July 12, 2011 11:39 am

    Hmmm. I like a good ghost story, and this book may be a good one for Carl’s R.I.P. Challenge!

    • July 12, 2011 11:47 am

      Jen – I was thinking that! Also would be good for the October readathon, since it held my attention well and was a quick read. Or both!


  1. Seriously, I Will Read Your Book Haunting Violet by Alyxndra Harvey « A Writer's Blog © Lara Dunning

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