As enchanting and feminist as Penner’s breakout debut The Lost Apothecary, THE LONDON SÉANCE SOCIETY isset in high Victorian London in 1873 when the spiritualist movement was in its heyday. Victorians were fascinated by all things supernatural and the most well-known spiritualists of that time were women. While the reasoning behind this has misogynist roots, it was one of the only professions in which women were more highly respected than men.
The novel opens at an abandoned chateau on the outskirts of Paris, where a dark séance is about to take place, led by acclaimed spiritualist Vaudeline D’Allaire. Known worldwide for her talent in conjuring the spirits of murder victims to ascertain the identity of the people who killed them, her skills are highly sought after by widows and investigators alike.
Accompanying Vaudeline at this séance is her spiritualist understudy, Lenna Wickes. Lenna’s motivations for learning more about the occult stem from the devastating and suspicious death of her sister, Evie, an aspiring medium who followed Vaudeline’s work closely. When Vaudeline is beckoned to England to solve a high-profile murder, Lenna joins her, again as her understudy. As the women team up with the powerful men of London’s exclusive Séance Society to solve the mystery, they begin to suspect that they are not merely out to solve a crime, but perhaps entangled in one themselves.
THE LONDON SÉANCE SOCIETY is a gorgeous product of both Sarah Penner’s rich imagination and extensive research. In fact, Penner loosely based The Séance Society in the novel on The Ghost Club, which was founded in London in 1862 and counted Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle among its members and still exists today. To fully imagine Vaudeline’s world, Penner participated in a real-life séance. Much like her character Lenna, Penner had her doubts about the occult before writing the novel.