Series: No, standalone
UK Publisher: Bloomsbury
UK Release date: September 2011
Genre: Historical YA
Kindly given by the publisher for an honest review
Saved from a life of hardship as a laundry girl in the early 1900's, Velvet is indebted to medium Madame Savoya. As Velvet learns that communing with spirits isn't always easy, she must decide whether she can trust the woman that she owes so much.
Review: Once again Mary Hooper manages to bring the Victorian period to life with such ease, from the luxury of carriages and jewels, to how Victorians spent their Christmas day, and the hardships of living from hand-to-mouth. So many details and historical facts are packed into the story making it feel so authentic and real.
We also get to see what the life of a medium was like in the height of spiritualism. Whilst more and more people were coming around to the idea that mediums were often fraudulently tricking grieving widows out of their money, there were still many ardent believers that they could commune with the other side. To keep their wealthy clients and fight off any suspicions, mediums had to be increasingly clever about the way they worked and the level of communing they performed. I wondered what parlour tricks Madame might be using, and would have liked to have learnt in more detail of the methods mediums used to 'prove' they were really in the presence of the deceased.
Madame Savoya's lifestyle is one of luxury and decadence. Like Velvet I couldn't help but be entranced by her charisma, pretty clothes, her royal Russian ancestry and apparent skill as a medium. But knowing what we know now about mediums, I often thought Velvet was naive and unquestioning of her new life. Considering she knew of tricks used by mediums and was warned by others, Velvet still lived in ignorance. Perhaps because she felt so indebted to Madame, and the alternative would be living back in poverty, I can understand why Velvet didn't want to think too much on the matter.
Also creeping into the story was baby-farms. A sad and horrific part of our history, baby-farms were unlicensed 'nannies' with whom young, poor women out of wedlock left their babes. To save money however these children were drugged and starved or even drowned. The fact that the young mothers were too ashamed to report the death of their children, meant that the farms continued to exist. The realities of these harsh times are apparent in the story, and what I like is that you learn so much about the time period, both good and bad, that history becomes interesting.
Velvet is another mysterious and fabulous historical YA from Mary Hooper who has fast become a top author in the genre.