“The London Séance Society” by Sarah Penner (Review)

Penner, Sarah. The London Séance Society. Toronto, Ontario: Park Row, 2023. 

ISBN-13: 978-0778387114 | $30.00 USD | 328 pages | Historical Fiction


“An atmospheric and evocative whodunnit steeped in suspense, mystery, and illusion.” —Nita Prose, #1 New York Times bestseller of The Maid

From the author of the sensational bestseller The Lost Apothecary comes a spellbinding tale about two daring women who hunt for truth and justice in the perilous art of conjuring the dead.

1873. At an abandoned château on the outskirts of Paris, a dark séance is about to take place, led by acclaimed spiritualist Vaudeline D’Allaire. Known worldwide for her talent in conjuring the spirits of murder victims to ascertain the identities of the people who killed them, she is highly sought after by widows and investigators alike.

Lenna Wickes has come to Paris to find answers about her sister’s death, but to do so, she must embrace the unknown and overcome her own logic-driven bias against the occult. When Vaudeline is beckoned to England to solve a high-profile murder, Lenna accompanies her as an understudy. But as the women team up with the powerful men of London’s exclusive Séance Society to solve the mystery, they begin to suspect that they are not merely out to solve a crime, but perhaps entangled in one themselves…

“An explosive, immersive, time-bomb of a novel. Vengeance is never sweeter than in Sarah Penner’s hands.” —Laurie Lico Albanese, award-winning author of Hester


4 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley. Review based on final copy. All opinions are my own. 

The London Séance Society is an intriguing book exploring the landscape of Victorian-era spiritualism. I didn’t know much beyond that, except that I was already interested in reading Sarah Penner’s previous book. However, I was pleasantly surprised with the twists and  the turns the book took. It also unpacks  a common trope, both historically and in Victorian-era fiction, that mediums and spiritualists are charlatans, while also exploring how it’s one of the few ways women of the era could gain autonomy in male-dominated spaces. 

I admit to being a tad bit confused at some of the style choices at first, especially as the blurb heavily emphasizes Lenna and Vaudeline as major characters. They are, but only Lenna is a POV character, with her chapters being told in third person. The first person Morley chapters were obviously connected, but it took time to understand the purpose of his POV, being an unreliable narrator. However, once I grasped that, it made the story all the more dark and intriguing. 

Lenna herself makes for a compelling protagonist to explore the narrative through. She’s a skeptic who doesn’t fully buy into spiritualism stuff, but she’s also reckoning with grief as her sister was murdered, and Evie had been very interested in spiritualism before her death, and studied with Vaudeline. Lenna takes on an understudy/assistant role for Vaudeline in order to investigate her death. It serves as a great starting point to an unlikely, yet wonderful friendship. 

I really enjoyed this book, and I’m definitely excited to read more from her. If you enjoy historical fiction with mystery elements, I recommend checking this out! 

Author Bio

Sarah Penner is the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of The Lost Apothecary which will be translated into forty languages worldwide and is set to be turned into a drama series by Fox. Sarah spent thirteen years in corporate finance and now writes full-time. She and her husband live in Florida. To learn more, visit https://www.sarahpenner.com/.

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