Victorian England. A world of rural fairgrounds and glamorous London theatres. A world of dark secrets and deadly obsessions…
Twin sisters Keziah and Tilly Lovell are identical in every way, except that Tilly hasn’t grown a single inch since she was five. Coerced into promoting their father’s quack elixir as they tour the country fairgrounds, at the age of fifteen the girls are sold to a mysterious Italian known as ‘Captain’.
Theo is an orphan, raised by his grandfather, Lord Seabrook, a man who has a dark interest in anatomical freaks and other curiosities … particularly the human kind. Resenting his grandson for his mother’s death in childbirth, when Seabrook remarries and a new heir is produced, Theo is forced to leave home without a penny to his name.
Unable to train to be a doctor as he’d hoped, Theo finds employment in Dr Summerwell’s Museum of Anatomy in London, and here he meets Captain and his theatrical ‘family’ of performers, freaks and outcasts.
But it is Theo’s fascination with Tilly and Keziah that will lead all of them into a web of dark deceits, exposing the darkest secrets and threatening everything they know…
Exploring universal themes of love and loss, the power of redemption and what it means to be unique, The Fascination is an evocative, glittering and bewitching gothic novel that brings alive Victorian London and darkness and deception that lies beneath…
Hi and welcome to my review of The Fascination!
Truth be told, the blurb had me at the first two words: Victorian England. As much as I have come to enjoy exploring various eras, and as much as I have been actively seeking out historical fiction set in time periods I’m not familiar with, I will always have a major weak spot for the Victorian era.
Knowing a novel is set in Victorian England raises certain expectations, and I can safely say The Fascination meets them all, and then some. It is a glorious piece of slow-burning Gothic fiction, addressing themes, issues and prejudices from the time through characters you come to care about as you read.
The Fascination is told from two alternating POVs: Theo’s and Keziah’s. Theo has never felt like he fits in anywhere and Keziah’s twin sister Tilly stopped growing at five years old. If you’re at all familiar with the Victorian era, you’ll know that it’s the era of freak shows and exhibitions, and the author really does an amazing job not only portraying this fascination that turns into unhealthy obsession in a heartbeat, but also giving the so-called freaks a voice.
The Fascination has some truly pitch-black elements and did make me want to strangle a few characters in a few instances, and simultaneously hug a few others. However, it was also a joy to see the “misfits” gain confidence and come into their own.
The Fascination is not one to race through, you need to take your time and savour it. Which did require some effort at times, for instance because I wanted to know when and how the characters would figure out something I had figured out because I was dying for them to realise it too. This is definitely one of those books I need to revisit with hindsight, so I can focus on the details and not be spurred on by the need to know certain outcomes.
I had a great time with The Fascination. Also, since finishing it, I have noticed just how much it got under my skin. I find myself still thinking about the characters and all that happened, it does linger. If you enjoy gothic literature and historical fiction set in the Victorian era, this is one you should definitely check out. And while you do that, I’ll be checking out Essie Fox’s backlist.
The Fascination is out on 22 June in hardcover and digital formats. Get it directly from Orenda Books here.
Massive thanks to Orenda Books for the eARC. All opinions are my own.