London, 1901. After the death of Queen Victoria the city heaves with the uncanny and the eerie. Séances are held and the dead are called upon from darker realms.
Samuel Moncrieff, recovering from a recent tragedy of his own, meets Helena Walton-Cisneros, one of London’s most reputed mediums. But Helena is not what she seems and she’s enlisted by the elusive Lady Matthews to solve a twenty-year-old mystery: the disappearance of her three stepdaughters who vanished without a trace on the Norfolk Fens.
But the Fens are a liminal land, where folk tales and dark magic still linger. With locals that speak of devilmen and catatonic children found on the Broads, Helena finds the answer to the mystery leads back to where it started: Samuel Moncrieff.
Hi and welcome to my review of The Golden Key!
Folk tales and dark magic, seances and mediums, a twenty-year-old mystery waiting to be solved AND a pretty cover?! This little blogger was all in! The Golden Key delivers all these elements, and does it with verve. Reminiscent of Rebecca and the novels of Laura Purcell, The Golden Key starts out with the kind of Gothic gloom I simply adore; the prose marvellous, detailed but not overly so; the story incredibly atmospheric, dripping with a brooding tension, shrouded in mystery… Although, perhaps a little too much mystery, and perhaps a little too much information as well…
I often state that “there’s a lot going on” in a book, and I usually mean that as a compliment. There IS a whole lot going on in The Golden Key, but in this case, I had some problems with that. I was suffering from scatter-brain and brain fog when I read this, so perhaps it’s just me and I shouldn’t even mention it, but I just couldn’t properly process all the names, events and details, and by the time I’d turned that final page, I was more than a little confused.
On the other hand, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and I do feel it’s intentional. One of the minor characters is the author George MacDonald and he states that he hates having to explain his stories, that stories, like nature, and the world itself, do not have to have a fixed meaning, that meanings are unsettled and borders are porous and each person is free to create their own interpretations. I’m not sure if MacDonald actually said anything of the kind, or these words are entirely Ms Womack’s work, but pondering what to write, what to tell you about The Golden Key, I thought back to those words, and started wondering if that might be Ms Womack’s intention: to rouse the reader’s consciousness, to force us to think and come up with our own explanations.
For me The Golden Key was a bit of a bumpy read with ups and downs and I don’t think I was the ideal reader for this book.
Thanks to Titan Books for the gifted proof copy. All opinions are my own.