Alyxandra Harvey – Haunting Violet
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.
Links: Read an excerpt
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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