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 (from Amazon.co.uk)
I came across Mary Hooper last year when I was sent Fallen Grace for review and enjoyed it immensely. I love historical fiction, particularly set in the Victorian era, and Hooper’s evocative style, sympathetic characters and accessible writing won me over immediately. I investigated the author’s other novels and was excited to learn the plot of her new book was set against the back drop of the Victorian spiritualist industry, something I have a read other books on and found fascinating.
I’m glad to say Velvet was just as good as Fallen Grace and I enjoyed every single page. After a couple of weeks of the dreaded reading slump, it’s gripping story line and fascinating characters were welcome relief and I couldn’t put the book down. Often historical fiction can come across as heavy going but this certainly isn’t the case with Velvet at all. It’s engaging and exciting yet remains very much in its time, throwing up many fascinating snippets of historical detail along the way.
Told in the first person from Velvet, I felt drawn to this character straight away. Despite having been abused and orphaned as a child and now working tirelessly in a laundry to scrimp her way through life, she remains ambitious and determined to stand on her own two feet. This seems to be a common trait in Hooper’s female lead characters and I enjoy the strength she portrays, especially in an age where women weren’t expected to want more. Sometimes I felt her ambition and desire to better herself made her a little too naïve at times, particularly where her new employer was concerned, although I think had I been in her position I too may have easily been so overawed at the life being offered to me to question it much.
I thought the character of spiritualist medium, Madame Savoya was incredibly well created. The reader is encouraged to build distrust of her by frequent passages involving clients away from Velvet’s eyes, in an almost conspiratorial way from the author. I liked how these sections gave shock factor and a sense of ‘behind the scenes’ rather than just Velvet’s biased and bedazzled view. Despite these insights, there where several twists along the way I didn’t see coming. There’s also a little bit of romance, although this never really takes of into a passionate love affair and remains very much in the background of the story.
At the end of the book Mary Hooper shares her inspiration for Velvet as well as some information on some of the people and places that appear in the book, which was very interesting. I’ve never come across Baby Farming before for instance and the fact this shockingly cruel practise took place little over 100 years ago stunned me. Clearly, Hooper puts a lot of research into her books and it’s this detailing along with her beautifully engaging writing style that makes Velvet a success. A truly intriguing and genuinely fascinating book, which I promise will pique the interest of all who read.
Published by Bloomsbury 5th September 2011
Thanks to the publishers for providing a copy for review.
Come back on 12th September 2011 for my stop on the Mary Hooper Blog Tour and a chance to win an amazing prize!