Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC.
Paperback, 320 pages.
Release date: September 5th 2011.
Rating: 4½ out of 5
Source: Received from publisher for review.
Velvet is a laundress in a Victorian steam laundry. With both her mother and father dead, she is an orphan and has to rely upon her own wits to make a living. The laundry is scalding, back-breaking work and Velvet is desperate to create a better life for herself. Then Velvet is noticed by Madame Savoya, a famed medium, who asks Velvet to come to work for her. Velvet is dazzled at first by the young yet beautifully dressed and bejewelled Madame. But soon Velvet realises that Madame Savoya is not all that she says she is, and Velvet’s very life is in danger . . .
A romantic and thrillingly exciting new novel from an acclaimed and much loved historical writer for teens.
A stunning work of historical fiction with a fascinating subject matter, Velvet by Mary Hooper is a thrilling exploration of the spiritualist craze that swept through Victorian and Edwardian society. This is the first book by I’ve read by Mary Hooper, but it certainly won’t be the last as I was entranced by the world and the characters that Hooper created here . A true page turner from start to finish, Velvet is filled with shocking revelations that will keep you reading late into the night as you uncover the secrets of the mysterious Madame Natasha Savoya.
Velvet has not had an easy life. An orphan, she’s had to make her own way in the world and works day after day in a stuffy steam laundry where conditions are harsh and pay is paltry. That’s until she catches the attention of Madame Savoya, a celebrated medium who lives in a world of splendour and séances and who invites Velvet to become part of her household where she will tend to Madame’s every need along with Madame's trusty companion, a handsome valet called George. Velvet soon settles in to her comfortable new life where she lusts after George, greets Madame’s wealthy clients with champagne and makes small talk with them as they wait for Madame to reach their lost loved ones on the ‘Other Side’. To Velvet, Madame is an inspiration, putting her gifts to good use to bring comfort to those in mourning, and if they want to pay extravagant sums of money for the service, then who is she to say no. As readers we are privy to Madame’s private sessions with these wealthy clients, while Velvet is not, and so we see the inner workings of Madame’s profitable business, as little by little Velvet begins to suspect that things are not all that the seem in the house of Madame Savoya.
The most fascinating element of this book for me was the world and workings of the mediums who took society by storm in the late nineteenth century. With competition fierce amongst rival mediums and with mediums all over London being exposed as fakes and money grabbers, Velvet inhabits a dangerously exciting world. Hooper goes into detail about mediums and their methods throughout the story and in her historical notes, most of which are downright cruel, but nonetheless fascinating to read about. In featuring real mediums from the era as well as prominent members of society such as Arthur Conan Doyle who visits Madame’s house, Hooper has created an addictive story which paints a thrilling and disturbing portrait of life during the spiritualist craze. More disturbing still is the depiction of the horrendous Baby Farms of the time, something which I knew nothing about, and which make me shudder to think about.
A born storyteller, Hooper’s skills are such that even though I read this without knowing all that much about the spiritualist craze, I found myself immediately invested in the story. So engaging is Hooper’s writing and so evocative her characters that I felt as though I was right there with Velvet uncovering the secrets of the mysterious Madame Savoya. A beautifully written and researched historical fiction, this one comes highly recommended from me.