The Séance by John Harwood

The Séance by John Harwood

Constance Langton’s childhood takes an unhappy turn when her younger sister Alma dies at the age of two. Her mother goes into mourning and hardly speaks to anybody, and her distant father ignores her and eventually abandons the family. Since she feels unloved and neglected by her parents, Constance begins to think that she might have been a foundling. However, her questions remain unanswered because the girl has no one to confide in. She often feels alone and she can’t bear to see her mother so unhappy, therefore, Constance wants to find a way to cheer her mother up and to put an end to her pain. Thus, one day, Constance pretends to be taken over by Alma’s spirit and tells her mother that she is in heaven. The girl thinks that her mother will finally be able to go on with her life and to stop mourning, now that she knows that Alma is in heaven. Constance’s mother, however, seems to become obsessed with the idea of hearing Alma. Thus, the two attend a series of séances where Constance continues to pretend to be her sister. Her mother seems to be happy and she even smiles sometimes, but she is no longer content with only hearing Alma; she also wants to see and hold her. In desperation, Constance decides to take her mother to a séance held by a group of charlatans. There, her mother is convinced that she has really seen her beloved Alma and after all these years of grief, she finally seems to have found peace. But when Constance’s mother commits suicide after this event, the girl is shattered and she begins to blame herself for her mother’s death. Since her mother is gone, Constance is all by her self and she feels hopeless and lonelier than ever. Much to her surprise, Constance soon learns that a distant relative has bequeathed her entire estate to her. The protagonist finds out that the estate consists of Wraxford Hall, a derelict manor house in the English countryside. The decaying mansion has an obscure reputation: once, people have mysteriously disappeared there and other sinister things have taken place. Still, Constance doesn’t seem to be deterred by Wraxford Hall’s sombre history. She is determined to find out everything about the decaying mansion and about her distant relatives in the hope that she will learn more about herself. While she tries to unveil the dark secrets of Wraxford Hall, she becomes more and more convinced that she has indeed been a foundling, as she feels a strong connection to Wraxford Hall’s former residents. As the protagonist digs deeper into the mysterious events surrounding the decaying mansion, she finds herself entangled in a web of secrets, lies and deception. Thus, Constance needs to be careful, as in this world of illusion, nothing is quite as it seems and hidden dangers await her.

The Séance is an accomplished second novel from a very talented author; this compelling tale pays homage to Victorian Literature and to Victorian ghost stories. John Harwood has created a captivating world of intrigues, mysteries and dark secrets. The reader will enjoy this suspenseful ghost story, as the author has successfully managed to capture the language and spirit of the Victorian period and in addition, he has provided us with a well-constructed plot and fascinating characters. The Séance will appeal to readers who enjoy Victorian ghost stories and gothic tales and I recommend this novel to everyone who is interested in the Victorian Era. I am a huge fan of Victorian ghost stories, thus I must say that I loved this spellbinding tale! I really liked reading about Wraxford Hall, with its secret passages and hidden chambers, and I loved how the author has used the elements of a classic ghost story in this engaging novel (haunted houses, stormy nights, skeletons in the closet, dark mysteries and secrets, etc.). All in all, The Séance is a terrific Victorian ghost story and therefore, a must read for ghost story lovers!

I would like to thank Mariner Books for sending me a copy of this engaging novel!



14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jackie (Farm Lane Books)
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 16:37:15

    I enjoyed reading this book too. I haven’t read The Ghost Writer yet – I really need to get round to that. I’m pleased to hear that you enjoyed this one.


  2. Sandy
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 17:00:24

    You said it perfectly – it does truly capture the essence of Victorian ghost stories. If I didn’t know better, I would think it actually WAS one. It had a few flaws I thought, but really enjoyed it!


  3. Kristen M.
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 20:05:54

    I really liked this one as well!


  4. Nymeth
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 23:20:37

    Clearly I need to read John Harwood sooner rather than later! Thank you for the fabulous review 🙂


  5. Melody
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 23:37:17

    Great review! I’ve to move this book up the pile after reading your and Sandy’s review!! 😉


  6. Serena (Savvy Verse & Wit)
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 16:29:19

    This sounds like a good one to read this month.


  7. Milka
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 18:23:23

    ‘If I Stay’ was a really great book, it really made me think.
    Thank you! I wanted something colorful because the weather here in Finland is so dark all the time now because of the fall. :/


  8. savidgereads
    Oct 21, 2009 @ 20:59:23

    I loved this book when I read it earlier in the year. I must get his first book as I have heard wonderful things about that too!


  9. Hazra
    Oct 23, 2009 @ 09:51:22

    I’ve been reading a couple of Gothic novels lately, and this sounds really intriguing. Thanks for the really detailed review.


  10. Rebecca
    Oct 23, 2009 @ 13:43:01

    I have been meaning to read this book for quite some time now, after reading lots of glowing reviews. It sounds just like my sort of book too – thank you for the great review!


  11. Books We Read
    Oct 23, 2009 @ 22:28:01

    Your blog is very pretty… Anyway,
    I would like to tell you that I am soliciting book reviews for my blog and I will be giving away jewelry set in exchange for book review. For details, please visit my blog:

    Your review has to be a review of a book that I had not read or reviewed. (let me know what book your review is about and I will tell you if it’s one that I had read or not)


  12. The Literary Stew
    Nov 06, 2009 @ 06:54:28

    That sounds interesting. I’ve heard of John Harwood for years but have yet to read one of his novels.


  13. Pins N Ashes
    Nov 28, 2009 @ 06:51:36

    Will pick up… :))


  14. The Book Whisperer
    Sep 22, 2010 @ 20:23:08

    I really want to read either this one or The Ghost Writer in October (I have both at home). Which would you recommend I start with?


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