Communicating with the dead – ghosts - might seem a blessing to some people. To sixteen-year-old Violet Willoughby, though, in the historical/supernatural YA novel Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey, it’s more like a curse.
While growing up, Violet has participated in too many fake seances conducted by her mother, conning the rich and gullible out of their money, to believe that ghosts are real. But as she approaches sixteen and her mother is invited to conduct seances at the country estate of the renowned Spiritualist Lord Jasper, she discovers that ghosts think that she is real. She finds it’s difficult to ignore the vision of a ghost her own age, Rowena, dripping water from her incorporeal body, smelling of lilacs, seeking justice from beyond.
Set in England during the 1800s, Haunting Violet is a page-turning supernatural novel but also a romantic one. Though Violet, her mother and her “brother,” Colin (a teen from Ireland her mother “adopted” by taking him off the streets and a life of pickpocketing to survive), move in the wealthy circles of the peerage among earls and lords and ladies of the realm, they aren’t really from that world of wealth and privilege by birth.
They are looked down upon by many of the people Violet’s mother seeks to cultivate as clients, those who see through Violet’s mother’s attempts to pass off studied knowledge of etiquette and rejuvenated secondhand clothing as signs that they somehow fit in.
While her mother uses Violet and Colin to help her produce various supernatural effects for her seances, she also partakes too much in alcohol and flirts outrageously with the men at Lord Jasper’s estate, hoping to land herself a rich husband. Whenever Violet isn’t helping with a seance, her mother seems to consider her more of a nuisance just getting in the way. She does, however, scheme to marry Violet off to the handsome Xavier Trethewey.
Violet is not opposed to this idea, as he comes from a rich family (though not one of the peerage) and he seems to be nice, as well as handsome. She warns him that she has no dowry, but he dismisses her concern: “You are quite ten times more beautiful than any other girl in England. Let that be your dowry!”
Colin clearly likes Violet and tries to dissuade her from going along with her mother’s plans to marry Violet off to Xavier. He derogatorily refers to Xavier as Violet’s “prince” and argues that if he or his parents ever learn the truth about her and her mother, they would want nothing to do with her.
As Colin is getting older, he has also become more handsome and muscular; one day when he kisses her, Violet finds herself liking the way he kisses even better than how Xavier kisses. As a result, not only does she have Rowena’s persistent attempts to get Violet’s attention to expose her killer to deal with. She’s also in emotional turmoil as she decides who would make a better marriage partner - Xavier or Colin.
Violet and her friend Elizabeth, the daughter of an earl, enjoy such things on Lord Jasper’s estate that young women of the age would normally enjoy, like homemade strawberry ice cream and dressing up for fancy balls. Violet at first doesn’t want to tell Elizabeth or anyone else about the visions of Rowena (not to mention other ghosts clamoring for her attention when they figure out she can see and hear them) dripping water all over, with bruises around her neck, as if someone has strangled her.
Tabitha, Rowena’s twin sister, is aloof and mean towards Violet, and she doesn’t want Violet around. Is it because she is jealous, or because she is afraid that Violet might be getting closer to uncovering the truth?
Alyxandra Harvey takes the reader back to 1800s’ England; Violet reminds me of a Jane Austen heroine, had Austen ever decided to write novels about the paranormal. Haunting Violet is a witty, suspenseful novel of the supernatural that I highly recommend.