Saturday, April 2, 2016

The House of Velvet and Glass

13543901Still reeling from the deaths of her mother and sister on the Titanic, Sibyl Allston is living a life of quiet desperation with her taciturn father and scandal-plagued brother in an elegant town house in Boston’s Back Bay. Trapped in a world over which she has no control, Sibyl flees for solace to the parlor of a table-turning medium.

But when her brother is suddenly kicked out of Harvard under mysterious circumstances and falls under the sway of a strange young woman, Sibyl turns for help to psychology professor Benton Derby, despite the unspoken tensions of their shared past. As Benton and Sibyl work together to solve a harrowing mystery, their long-simmering spark flares to life, and they realize that there may be something even more magical between them than a medium’s scrying glass.

From the opium dens of Boston’s Chinatown to the opulent salons of high society, from the back alleys of colonial Shanghai to the decks of the Titanic, The House of Velvet and Glass weaves together meticulous period detail, intoxicating romance, and a final shocking twist that will leave readers breathless.

*May Contain Spoilers*
The House of Velvet and Glass, by Katherine Howe, is an enchanting tale of a family secret, or perhaps a curse. Heavy in beautiful, articulate prose, readers will be swept away in the waves of this novel. Set in three different times, this book shows readers a haunted glimpse into the scrying glass.
Sybil Allston is the main character of this novel, as everything revolves around and leads back to her. She's twenty-seven years old, considered a spinster in the eyes of 1915 Boston, and lives at home with her father who is well into his years. Sybil is a bit nervous and naïve, but has a wonderful streak of stubbornness. She's a curious creature who believes in the ability to reach the beyond though she's weighed down with guilt. When her mother and sister were killed on the Titanic, Sybil was heartbroken but also glad that she hadn't been with them. She was glad that she survived. Now she has many qualms about her life. Are her loved ones angry with her from the beyond? Are they still with her? Can they be reached? Readers will enjoy Sybil's journey to discovering her gift, and what that means for her. They will connect with Sybil through her loss and understand her desire to reach them. She will gain the respect of readers even though an eyebrow may be raised in surprise at her tactics.
Readers will also make connections with Helen, Sybil's mother, and Eulah, her sister, as they bear witness of their last night on the doomed Titanic. Helen is a hopeful mother who loves her husband dearly. Eulah is a flippant girl who's obsessed with parties, excitement, fashion, and being at center of it all. Though she will win the hearts of readers with her hopeful demeanor. Harlan, Sybil's brother, will gain readers sympathies as he fights against the rules of society by falling in love with an actress. And Lan, Sybil's father, will gain limitless understanding and sympathy when readers learn of his secret.
The plot of this novel begins with Sybil and her séance circle, where Sybil receives a scrying glass. Then, when her brother is kicked out of school for unknown reasons, she reconnects with an old love, Benton Derby. With a little push, Professor Friend and Derby convince her to take them to her séance leader to settle an argument. This ultimately leads to Sybil using the scrying glass and discovering that she has the power, within the right circumstances, to see the future, which throws her whole world into an uproar. While readers read of Helen and Eulah aboard the Titanic, Sybil in present tense reaching the beyond, and Lan Allston discovering his power in 1886, they will be suspended in swirls of dread and hope. The ending is ambiguously clear, leaving me with two questions. Did Eulah know that she would die on the Titanic? And did Lan Allston write Le Sang de Morphee, the only book on scrying? Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys historical fiction laced with love and supernatural happenings.
Rating: 4/5 Cups

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