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31 October 2013

Review: 'The Blackheath Seance Parlour' by Alan Williams (2013)

In 1842, two drunken sisters debate their future. Business at the family chocolate shop has ground to a halt, and change is needed. For once, domineering elder sister Maggie doesn't get her way, and a month later Judy, Maggie, and Netta Walters—a medium with big hair and a bigger secret—open their séance parlor. The locals are shocked, but soon the shop is crammed with people wanting to contact the dead. Despite their change in fortune, a rift grows between the sisters, as Judy gets her gothic novel published, finds a man, and proves to be more capable of contacting spirits than Maggie. Spurred on by jealousy, Maggie tries harder, and soon the Church decides they must be stopped.

Several weeks ago I was contacted by the lovely Laura from Laura’s Little Book Blog to write something for the Halloween feature on her blog. I had a good think and realised I haven’t actually read any Halloween related or scary books. I’m not a fan of horror stories, mainly because I’m a sucker for and simply love happy endings (which usually do not include scary killers, monstrous animals, and at least half of the characters finding an untimely death). Unfortunately, I couldn’t take part in Laura’s feature, but when I was contacted to review Alan Williams’ novel ‘The Blackheath Séance Parlour’, I straight away saw this as the perfect opportunity to not only finally take a sneak peek into the world of spooky stories, but also to at least celebrate Halloween on my blog in a small way by posting the review of this book on the 31st of October. 

‘The Blackheath Séance Parlour’ is set in the 1840’s and tells the story of two sisters, Maggie and Judy Cloak, who own a chocolate shop in Blackheath. Times are hard, though, and in order to keep themselves fed and supplied with enough alcohol to get through the day, they need to come up with a plan for a new business. Judy, who is also busy writing her first Gothic novel, wants to set up a séance parlour, but Maggie isn’t too sure about this. With the help of medium Netta Walters, who teaches the sisters how to read tea leaves and stare into crystal balls, the girls eventually decide to give it a shot. The shop exceeds everyone’s expectations and becomes an instant success, attracting visitors from all over the country. Maggie and Judy’s lives are turned upside down, but it doesn’t take long before the success starts to influence the sisterly bond between them in the worst way…

What a read! I honestly had no idea what to expect from this novel, but after a few pages I was hooked by the unusual and original storyline, the strong female characters, and the enthralling writing style of Alan Williams. I loved the fact that the book basically has two different storylines: one that focuses on Maggie and Judy, and one that tells the story of Judy’s novel (which focuses on a beautiful count and countess hiding a horrible dark secret). Both storylines were just as intriguing, and every time the book switched from one story to another, I didn’t want to put the novel down because I simply needed to know what would happen next.

The book is a mix of horror and historical fiction, with a definite Gothic touch to it that reminded me of dark Victorian novels like ‘Sherlock Holmes’ or Charles Dickens’ work. This is also linked to the descriptive scene setting, which is apparently very true to the real Blackheath, and I could easily imagine myself walking around the town with its pubs and shops. Overall, ‘The Blackheath Seance Parlour’ is an extremely enjoyable, unusual, and gripping novel and the ideal Halloween read. As soon as I opened this book I had no idea what to expect, but it undoubtedly surprised me with its originality and addictiveness and is like nothing I’ve read before. I will definitely recommend Alan Williams’ debut novel to others, and honestly can’t wait to see what he will come up next!

(Be sure to check out the brilliant website that was made for the novel, which includes facts about the book and some great background information:!) 



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