Title: The Shape of Darkness
Author: Laura Purcell
Genre: Historical Fiction / Mystery
Publisher: Raven Books, Bloomsbury
Publication Date: 21st January 2021
Wicked deeds require the cover of darkness…
A struggling silhouette artist in Victorian Bath seeks out a renowned child spirit medium in order to speak to the dead – and to try and identify their killers – in this beguiling new tale from Laura Purcell.
Silhouette artist Agnes is struggling to keep her business afloat. Still recovering from a serious illness herself, making enough money to support her elderly mother and her orphaned nephew Cedric has never been easy, but then one of her clients is murdered shortly after sitting for Agnes, and then another, and another…
Desperately seeking an answer, Agnes approaches Pearl, a child spirit medium lodging in Bath with her older half-sister and her ailing father, hoping that if Pearl can make contact with those who died, they might reveal who killed them. But Agnes and Pearl quickly discover that instead they may have opened the door to something that they can never put back…
What secrets lie hidden in the darkness?
I love a good gothic ghost story, especially from a writer as brilliant as Laura Purcell so I was extremely excited to read The Shape of Darkness and I’m pleased to say it was just as eerie and beautifully written as I expected. The story takes place in Victorian Bath (incidentally one of my favourite cities here in the UK) and follows Agnes Darken, a silhouette artist whose clients are being murdered in mysterious ways. She enlists the help of a child spirit medium named Pearl to make a connection to the dead and somehow solve the killings.
The first thing that struck me about The Shape of Darkness is how perfectly evocative the setting is and how Purcell places us in the Victorian era in such an elegant and effective manner. The prose is gorgeously eloquent and yet darkly vivid at the same time. The characters are just as engaging as the writing, especially Agnes and Pearl. Pearl is a young girl living under the care of her elder sister whilst her father suffers with a truly horrifying illness and her sister is using Pearl’s ability as a spirit medium to provide an income for the family. I felt so much empathy for young Pearl, who seemed to be stuck in a vicious cycle of suffering unfortunately prevalent among the lower classes of the Victorian era. I was also fascinated by Agnes, who is plagued by the shadow of her deceased sister. She is unsure of the veracity of seances and ghosts but is desperate to understand what is happening to her and her clients and why.
As is clear from the title this is a book familiar with the darkness in life, it is chock full of an oppressive and haunting atmosphere that creeps off the page and into the mind of the reader. It is also at times desperately sad and depicts the overwhelming nature of grief incredibly well. I don’t want to give anything away about the plot because it is one that truly kept me guessing and there are some genuinely shocking moments along the way. I think anyone who loves a read full of creepy, gothic atmosphere and dark beauty will find this book seriously compelling.
I was kindly sent a copy of the book by the publisher. My review is entirely my own honest opinion.