Review: The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell

 



Title: The Shape of Darkness

Author: Laura Purcell

Published: February 2nd 2021, Raven Books

Status: Read January 2021 courtesy Bloomsbury/Netgalley

+++++++

My Thoughts:

Set in Bath in 1854, The Shape of Darkness is a atmospheric historical novel from Laura Purcell.

Agnes Darken supports her ailing mother and orphaned nephew with her work as a silhouette artist, but with the growing popularity of the daguerreotypes, she’s finding it harder to attract clients. She is shocked when the local Sergeant calls on her to ask questions about a recent sitter who was brutally murdered shortly after their appointment, and worried that notoriety might attach to her business. Her physician and brother in law, Simon, is quick to assure her that all is fine, but when a second and then third client dies, Agnes fears she may somehow be connected to their deaths. Desperate for answers to both the current circumstances and a past tragedy, Agnes reaches out to a mesmerist Myrtle West and her young half sister, Pearl, known as ‘The White Sylph’ who is said to communicate with the dead.

The Shape of Darkness embraces all the elements of a Victorian gothic tale – a physically and emotionally frail heroine, high emotion, a bleak, wintry setting, murder, and the supernatural. Purcell deftly builds suspense and dread as she develops the plot, revealing dark secrets and making good use of misdirect to ensure the final twist is a surprise.

Fragile and high strung, Agnes has an nervous energy that plays into the narrative. Her suspicions about the connection between the dead and her silhouettes seems fanciful, but her panic is almost contagious as she becomes more certain she, and her family are in danger from an unknown foe. With hints of a tragic background, involving a doomed romance, and a grievous accident, she is exactly what you’d expect as a gothic heroine, except for perhaps her age.

Pearl is a desperately sympathetic character, used terribly by her her half sister, Myrtle. Blamed for her mother’s death during her birth, her father now lays dying gruesomely, a victim of phosphorus poisoning. An albino, eleven year old Pearl is easily envisioned as a medium, but there is an ambiguity to her ability that Purcell exploits, so that you’re never quite sure where the line between this world and the next lies.

Though overall I found it a touch melodramatic for my taste, The Shape of Darkness is evocative, haunting and enthralling.

+++++++

Available from Bloomsbury

Or from your preferred retailer via HiveUK I Book Depository I Booko I Indiebound

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tammy
    Feb 06, 2021 @ 02:47:31

    I love Laura Purcell, I’ll definitely be reading this when the US edition comes out😁

    Like

    Reply

  2. victoria7401
    Feb 06, 2021 @ 11:41:17

    It sounds like it has a good spooky vibe!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  3. Mae Sander
    Feb 07, 2021 @ 10:26:49

    I’m not clear on the genre: is it paranormal, like the medium can really communicate with the dead? Or is it a normal world with a medium who claims to communicate with the dead?

    be safe… mae at maefood.blogspot.com

    Like

    Reply

  4. Trackback: It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #SundayPost #SundaySalon | book'd out
  5. Tracey (Carpe Librum)
    Feb 24, 2021 @ 21:23:48

    Now that I’ve read and reviewed this, I’m coming back to read your review. This was a 4 star read for me but I enjoyed your take on it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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