books, reviews

Book Review: The Quickening – Rhiannon Ward

I was sent a copy of this book by the publisher, originally for a blog tour but it didn’t arrive in time. Please see my unbiased review below.

Feminist gothic fiction set between the late 19th century and the early 20th century – an era of burgeoning spiritualism and the suffragette movement – that couldn’t be more relevant today.

England, 1925. Louisa Drew lost her husband in the First World War and her six-year-old twin sons in the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. Newly re-married to a war-traumatised husband and seven months pregnant, Louisa is asked by her employer to travel to Clewer Hall in Sussex where she is to photograph the contents of the house for auction.

She learns Clewer Hall was host to an infamous séance in 1896, and that the lady of the house has asked those who gathered back then to come together once more to recreate the evening. When a mysterious child appears on

the grounds, Louisa finds herself compelled to investigate and becomes embroiled in the strange happenings of the house. Gradually, she unravels the long-held secrets of the inhabitants and what really happened thirty years before… and discovers her own fate is entwined with that of Clewer Hall’s.

An exquisitely crafted and compelling mystery that invites the reader in to the crumbling Clewer Hall to help unlock its secrets alongside the unforgettable Louisa Drew.

My thoughts:

This was a dark, twisted Gothic mystery, complete with crumbling house (quite literally), secrets, stoic servants and a woman at the centre who might just be in terrible danger.

Contracted to photograph Clewer House and its contents by the auction house handling the sale, with the family due to move to India, Louisa Drew is eight months pregnant and desperate for an escape from her dull second husband, who she doesn’t love.

Draw into the web of secrets, tragedy and spiritualism surrounding the Clewer family, she becomes slightly obsessed with the child she thinks she sees in the garden. A few strange things happen to her before an infamous seance is recreated with the original guests.

The inclusion of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his second wife is interesting. Probably one of the most famous spiritualists, Doyle was a man of science who nevertheless believed mediums could communicate with the other side, despite having met his share of charlatans.

Louisa is a modern woman, used to providing for herself, after losing her first husband, Bertie, in WWI. This contrasts with the very Victorian fascination with mediums, lending an element of travelling back in time to the proceedings.

The atmospheric, damp, mouldy, crumbling house provides the perfect backdrop to the unfolding tragedy. As Louisa is drawn into solving a murder and investigating the Clewer family’s tragedy, she starts to unravel herself.

In grand Gothic tradition the house and the secrets it holds start to affect everyone who enters it and I really enjoyed the fact that there was something sinister about the plaster falling off the walls as the family and their guests take tea in another room.

This is an excellent read, full of suspense and things that jar against the early 20th century setting, a time of huge social change, while Clewer House clings onto its past.

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