The House of Velvet and Glass, by Katherine Howe

Review published on October 13, 2012. Reviewed by Jade Cranwell

On the third anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, Sibyl Allston seeks comfort from a medium, hoping to contact her deceased mother and sister, who died aboard the great ocean liner. Sibyl starts to become obsessed with hunting for signs of the afterlife, and goes through unorthodox methods to achieve this, discovering something she could never have imagined long the way. In her fear she turns to her old friend and Harvard professor, Benton Jones, for help, despite the tension still present from their shared past.

Whilst Sybil and Benton strive to uncover the mystery of the visions, Sybil’s brother, Harlan, has his own troubles to deal with. After returning prematurely from his studies, Sybil must also try to get to the bottom of his problematic situation.

The House of Velvet and Glass takes readers from the high society of Boston to the mid-nineteenth century opium dens of China. It deals with loss, love as well as trying to live within the tight confines of twentieth century society and overcoming the dark force of addiction.

From the very first page it is clear to see this book is written by an author with a natural talent for writing. The House of Velvet and Glass is Katherine Howe’s fabulous second novel; the first being The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, published back in 2009. The detail Howe bestows upon the time period and setting is exact in a way that only someone who knows the area exceptionally well could possibly write with, and, in fact, Katherine Howe’s family has resided in the area of Salem, Massachusetts for generations. Although this is a fiction story, it is based on real events and includes a few significant people taken from history. One of Howe’s relatives went on the Titanic, and went down with it. No doubt her research into this helped write the novel and made it such a historically accurate read.

The writing is just mesmerising, and will keep you superglued to the pages of The House of Velvet and Glass. The excellent prose gives a real sense of society at the time, and the characters living within it. There is an occasional chapter featuring Helen and Eulah, Sibyl’s deceased mother and sister, whilst they were on the Titanic, which provides an insight into characters not otherwise present throughout the book. The plot revolves mainly around the two lost women, and explores how their deaths have affected Sibyl and changed the life of her and her family.

The House of Velvet and Glass is not just an excellent novel in itself, but has also introduced me to a fantastic author! I eagerly await any future books Howe releases and urge you to pick up a copy of this novel. If you are a fan of Downton Abbey and enjoy reading historical fiction, you will love The House of Velvet and Glass.

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