Things Titanic…and The House of Velvet and Glass

I am a COMPLETE sucker for all things Titanic. I’ve had a fascination/borderline obsession with Titanic ever since I read the Dear America book Voyage on the Great Titanic: The Diary of Margaret Ann Brady in the fourth grade. It’s the classic tale of a middle-class girl, hired on as a maid by a first class passenger . . . obviously, this viewpoint provides ample opportunity for gushing description of dresses, dining rooms, etc., which is ideal. I have been SO EXCITED to read Katherine Howe’s new novel The House of Velvet and Glass. Her debut novel, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, was one of my favorite books of 2009, and I’ve been anticipating her next novel every since.

Since this April was the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking, there have been a predictable amount of Titanic-related new releases this spring. This one definitely stands out from the pack, since most of it doesn’t even take place on the ship. It’s set primarily after the sinking, from the perspective of the protagonist, Sybill–although it does include some flashbacks from her mother’s point of view, who, sadly, went down with the ship.

There are three storylines in The House of Velvet and Glass, though Sybill’s is the most prominent. She is the unmarried eldest child in a wealthy family, who has the responsibility of caring for her father now that her mother is dead. She is lonely, self-deprecating, and ultimately lovable. I found myself pitying her, but not in a bad way. We also get a glimpse into the life of her mother because Howe spins her narrative around the fascination that Americans had with the paranormal in the first couple of decades in the 20th century. Sybill’s mother, Helen, was very involved in the paranormal fervor of the age, and part of an exclusive group headed by the (fictionally) infamous medium Mrs. Dee. Sybill is drawn to the group in her search for solace after the tragedy of losing her mother and sister, and ends up getting more than she bargained for–in more ways than one.

Howe’s writing is beautiful. Once again, she proves herself a master at weaving history with the supernatural in a unique and distinctly literary way. The plot had some twists that I didn’t expect, and I really enjoyed the romance. My only qualm is that I wanted more of Sybill’s story. I would have liked to see Howe focus solely on that storyline for a fuller narrative, rather than the occasional shifts to other perspectives.

Nevertheless, I loved every minute of it!

On a side note, there were an astonishing 29 pages of extra material at the back of this ebook, including a do-it-yourself “armchair medium’s guide to scrying” with step-by-step instructions. I’m all for extras, but someone at Hyperion got a little carried away. . . .  In the end I was glad I read through it (with the exception to the armchair guide), because Katherine Howe revealed in an interview that a sequel to The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is in the works! I am SO excited. In the meantime, she’s working on another historical novel with a supernatural twistand I’ll be looking forward to it.