Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Historical Fiction: The House of Velvet and Glass by Katherine Howe
Date: April 10, 2012
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.)
Reading time: four days
From GoodReads: Still reeling from the deaths of her mother and sister on the Titanic, Sibyl Allston is living a life of quiet desperation with her taciturn father and scandal-plagued brother in an elegant town house in Boston’s Back Bay. Trapped in a world over which she has no control, Sibyl flees for solace to the parlor of a table-turning medium. But when her brother is suddenly kicked out of Harvard under mysterious circumstances and falls under the sway of a strange young woman, Sibyl turns for help to psychology professor Benton Derby, despite the unspoken tensions of their shared past. As Benton and Sibyl work together to solve a harrowing mystery, their long-simmering spark flares to life, and they realize that there may be something even more magical between them than a medium’s scrying glass. From the opium dens of Boston’s Chinatown to the opulent salons of high society, from the back alleys of colonial Shanghai to the decks of theTitanic, The House of Velvet and Glass weaves together meticulous period detail, intoxicating romance, and a final shocking twist that will leave readers breathless.
My review: The House of Velvet and Glass is a refreshing departure from most other Titanic-oriented books in that it focuses on one family's aftermath in the years following the disaster. The ship itself is featured in only occasional scenes, and its final three hours are never directly chronicled. Also of particular interest in this historical novel are its emphasis on Spiritualism, flashbacks to 1860s Shanghai, and connections to the beginning of America's involvement in the First World War.
It took me a while - over half the book - to really get into the story. I was never able to connect very well with most of the characters, and the plot was slow. Fortunately, Howe has a good writing style that allows continuing the book to be worthwhile, just not necessarily exciting. Towards the end, though, I began breezing through the pages as the conclusion began to develop. The plot never reached the breathtaking mysteries and unravelings seemingly promised by the blurb, but there were some interesting things that were gradually uncovered. Besides the slowness of the plot, the only thing that really bothered me was that I figured out one of the twists way before the characters, who seemed to be taking too long of a time to figure it out for themselves. Oh, well. The House of Velvet and Glass is a worthwhile read if you enjoy historical fiction and have the time, though it will probably never warrant a re-read, at least for me.