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The Shape of Darkness (2021)

by Laura Purcell

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16412169,538 (3.71)12
"As the age of the photograph dawns in Victorian Bath, 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... Why is the killer seemingly targeting her business? 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"--… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
I enjoyed it. Author is great at creating a gothic atmosphere. The elements of Victorian interest, seances, albinism, phossy jaw, silhouettes are all well done and integrated into the story. I saw the ending coming, but only because the author played fair, still a fun read ( )
  cspiwak | Mar 6, 2024 |
I wanted to love this. I really thought I would. I adore stories about spiritual mediums so much. I was excited that the main character was a silhouette artist because I think those things are cool as hell. The premise was fantastic, part ghost story, part crime novel. Should have been an entertaining read for me, and it started out that way. Slow burn, Gothic, atmospheric. I love that shit!

However, there is a reason I tend to veer from Victorian novels set in time periods like this. I HATE reading about weak women! All of the fainting and swooning and being terrified of every damn thing! It annoys the hell out of me. I like my female characters to be strong even when scary shit is going down. It is a completely personal preference, I know this.

There were some spectacular twists that I didn't see coming. Those parts were great, but I couldn't enjoy them completely because in my head I kept thinking..."this bitch fainted again? She fell to her knees AGAIN?"

All that being said, I would recommend this book. The story itself and the twists were fantastic. ( )
  Halestormer78 | May 15, 2022 |
‘’Shadows flee across the cobbles and climb up walls. Agnes has spent her life studying them, but she has not appreciated their sheer number until tonight. She sees shadows thrown by a dancing flame, the shadow of a tree branch, of an alley cat, shadows from nothing at all.’’

Agnes works wonders with her skilful hands. A silhouette artist in an era when the photograph is about to become THE fashion, she has to keep her business alive and provide for her mother and her nephew. But this is not the hardest part of her daily life. Still recovering from a severe illness, the shadows of the past are playing hide-and-seek. And then, clients of hers are murdered. One after another. A child with otherworldy powers seems to provide the only solution. A game of shadows begins…

Yes, one more masterpiece by the inimitable Laura Purcell.

‘’The gas lamps are up. Not high, but enough to taunt her. By their light, the parlour looks shabbier: the wallpaper a weak and faded lilac chintz that depresses the spirits. Pearl’s spirits, that is. She doesn’t know about the ghosts. They haven’t complained about the decoration as yet.’’

I don’t think that Laura Purcell’s work needs an introduction. In her fourth novel/masterpiece, we meet Agnes and Pearl. Taking place in Bath during the 1850s, this is the story of a woman and a child, two souls that have been plagued by the spirits of the past for so long…Grief and Death are their companions, and the narrative becomes haunting and mesmerizing in an almost twisted way as we witness the toil that burdens Agnes and Pearl’s shoulders.

To what extent should you sacrifice yourself, your dignity, your happiness, your sanity for the sake of your family? Why is it that the innocents are left to atone in blood and tears for the mistakes of others? Laura Purcell creates a marriage between the themes of shadows - literal and metaphorical- and silhouettes and the daily responsibilities and hardship women have had to face to keep their families safe. The beautiful characters of Agnes and Pearl, their faith, determination and bravery are a wonder to behold within the pages of this beautiful book.

To say that the novel is rich in this distinctive, superb Gothic atmosphere we have come to associate with Purcell’s works is an understatement. The conviction that the soul would be captured within a portrait or a photograph. The Victorian obsession with Spiritualism, mesmerism, the unethical madness of body-snatching, the popularity of the Penny Dreadfuls. What more could we possibly want as readers?

Every Victorian Gothic element is here, in this novel, in all its eerie glory. Perfection after perfection, Laura Purcell never seizes to generously lure us into a mesmerizing net of pure literary delight.

‘’When the hours of day are numbered,
And the voices of the night
Wake the better soul, that slumbered,
To a holy, calm delight.

Ere the evening lamps are lighted,
And, like phantoms grim and tall,
Shadows from the fitful fire-light
Dance upon the parlour wall;’’

My reviews can also be found on https://theopinionatedreaderblog.wordpress.com/ ( )
  AmaliaGavea | Apr 26, 2022 |
This was an interesting mystery done in a very low key way. There are hints of supernatural elements but the whole book I was wondering what is or is not happening? Is it supernatural, is it mental, is it something else? I think the author did well in keeping you guessing, even at the very end I am still not 100% sure what happened. The is the first time a quick read has me still thinking about it and whether or not I should re-read in case I missed something. The books seems a little slow at first but the building of the story and piecing everything together was well done. I enjoyed this book and feel it would be a good quick read. ( )
  demonite93 | Apr 22, 2022 |
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'... we together called into being, a weird shadow which was neither of us, only an unshapen, unformed thing... the ideas crossed each other as the lines of two wet drawings laid face to face become crossed, blotted, effaced and unrecognisable.'
Elizabeth d'Espérance, Shadow Land or, Light from the Other Side
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For Kevin
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It is the cocked hat that draws her to him: the way it arches above the barricade of toppers.
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"As the age of the photograph dawns in Victorian Bath, 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... Why is the killer seemingly targeting her business? 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"--

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