Friday, April 27, 2012

The House of Velvet and Glass by Katherine Howe

Still 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.

A lush historical fiction, this novel brings a little bit of everything to the table: mystery, paranormal occurrences, romance and even drug addiction come to play in Ms. Howe’s new book.

This is certainly an interesting read. There are many wonderful moments written in a manner that can’t be faulted. I was, however, left a little disappointed. The troubling thing is that I’m not exactly sure why I felt kind of neutral throughout the book. It might be that Sybil, the protagonist, is not as fully realized as I would have wanted. She never comes to life in a believable manner. Sometimes the setting overwhelms the characters themselves, the lushness shadowing them to the point where the reader stops paying attention to who is speaking, instead focusing on all the richly written, if cloying, details.

It might also be that the book is too long. I can’t understand, in all honesty, what purpose the scenes that take place in the Titanic serve. They don’t do much to advance the story, or for character development, so I don’t know why they weren’t cut. It wouldn’t have simplified the novel, just made it tighter, more cohesive.

It’s not a bad book; it’s not a great book. It’s one of those in-between ones that are so hard to recommend. In one hand, I think that a lot of historical fiction lovers will enjoy it, and on the other I have to think that some, like me, will be underwhelmed.


kay - Infinite Shelf said...

Interesting review. I read "The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane" and liked it enough, I would try this one.

TheReadingPenguin said...

Unnecessary scenes and passages in books always frustrate me. Why do authors feel the need to pad their work? Great review!