The Seance by John Harwood

To start off with, I can’t remember the last time I read historical fiction. Non-fiction history, sure: I do that all the time, because research, you know? Granted my collection of non-fiction history books is a bit skewed towards the dark stuff too: lots of taphology books. Lots of stuff about cemeteries. Lots of Victoriana in various forms: which is funny to me because Wake the Dead is set in contemporary London, and as of right now, there are no flashbacks. I’m totally reading this stuff because I’m that big of a nerd. I must immerse myself! I must understand my characters and where they come from! Nyah nyah nyah.

I picked up The Seance by John Harwood over the Christmas holidays with the intention of taking the week off of work and taking the week off of writing to allow for a few ideas to gestate. I didn’t want to overcommit my noggin by exerting too much effort by reading any textbooks, but I was hoping to find a particular flavour of grim and dark and Victorian to keep the juices of inspiration going. This is coming off of that Victorian Oddities post I did not so long ago: I’d caught the flavour, so to speak, and I wanted to run with it.

I’m not sure to what ends reading about seances in the Victorian era might serve me, but it fits my milieu and sphere of interest pretty tightly.

The end result was that I ended up swallowing the whole book down in a day and a half in between spending time with family. I’m not sure if you behave the same way, but when you find something that enjoyable to read, you really want to finish it.

Book nerd for life.

Book Review: The Seance by John Harwood

Fitting neatly into the tradition of gothic horror, The Seance centres around a decaying mansion that sits in the thick of Monk’s Wood: an isolated building that has passed through the hands of several generations of the Wraxford family, many who’ve met untimely and mysterious ends while they lived at the Hall.

The story is narrated through multiple points of view through letters and documents of those attached to the family who’ve owned Wraxford Hall, beginning with Constance Langdon as a young girl who later becomes the inheritor of the property. Constance herself suffers an unfortunate beginning — her father abandons the family following the death of her sister, Alba. Constance’s mother, grieving, can’t seem to pull herself from mourning for her baby. In the attempt to remedy the situation, Constance seeks the guidance of local spiritualists, and later orchestrates a seance to put her mother at ease: Alba is safe and happy in heaven.

Eager to join baby Alba, Constance’s mother overdoses on laudanum.

Alone in the world, Constance can’t help but feel that she was always the unwanted child; that she never fit into her family, and that perhaps she wasn’t a Langdon after all. When the bequest of Wraxford Hall arrives for her, along with it comes the warning: she should never set foot on the property. She is handed a collection of documents that attempt to explain the whys and wherefores, and we are plunged into the sordid history of the Hall from several lives its tainted with its shadow.

The story has all the elements of a proper gothic horror story: a haunting, madness, isolation, a big scary mansion with secret passages that has been home to an alchemist, and a few crazy people along the way. There are touches of alchemy, hints at magic, and of course: spiritualists, mediums, and sensitives.

Constance digs into the past to resolve the question of her identity, and to dispel the shadow that hangs over Wraxford Hall once and for all.

I really enjoyed the multiple narratives, the diverse cast from which the story is told, and the constant overhanging misery that everyone seems to experience: not to make light of it, but the book is fraught with tragedy. It’s a ghost story at it’s heart, and inspires the sort of delirium that makes me want to claim I caught the vapours.

About the Book

The Seance by John HarwoodThe Seance by John Harwood
on April 3rd 2008
Genres: Horror
Pages: 304
Format: Mobi
Source: Amazon
Check it out: Goodreads

Wraxford Hall, a decaying mansion in the English countryside, has a sinister reputation. Once, a family disappeared there. And now Constance Langton has inherited this dark place as well as the mysteries surrounding it. Having grown up in a house marked by the death of her sister, Constance is no stranger to mystery, secrets, and the dark magic around us. Her father was distant. Her mother was in perpetual mourning for her lost child. In a desperate attempt to coax her mother back to health, Constance took her to a seance hoping she would find supernatural comfort. But tragic consequences followed, leaving her alone in the world-- alone with Wraxford Hall. Saddled with this questionable bequest, she must find the truth at the heart of all these disappearances, apparitions, betrayal, blackmail, and villainy, even if it costs her life. John Harwood's second novel delivers on the great promise proven by his first with this gripping mystery set in the heart of Victorian England.

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Showing 2 comments
  • Notebook of Ghosts

    I too read a lot of historical non-fiction and I’m trying to branch out a bit more into fiction. The cover alone got me. Glad I found this site, because I am constantly looking for spooky books to read and I’m overwhelmed by all the options.I also enjoyed the “swallowing the whole book down” part. 🙂

    • Kira Butler

      Likewise, I’m glad I found yours too, Ashley! Your topics are right up my alley when it comes to getting inspired to write, and I *adore* anything involving folklore, history, or legend hacking. (Pleasure to “meet” you, basically.) 😉

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