Velvet has a secret within her past. Worse still, she is in danger of losing her livelihood in Ruffold’s Steam Laundry, because the heat and backbreaking work has caused her to faint too many times. Her supervisor offers her a lifeline: working on the clothes of their wealthier clients. This is the Victorian era, and Velvet is about to be noticed by Madame Savoya, a respected medium who will offer Velvet employment and a life within her household.
The Victorians were fascinated by the wave of spiritualism, which came to our shores from America. The gullible and grieving rich were easy targets for many ruthless charlatans, who manipulated their prey out of their inheritance through emotional blackmail and fear. Even known historical characters, such as Arthur Conan Doyle, were taken in and appear in this beautifully crafted novel.
Velvet’s story is a romantic adventure revealed against the careful balance of fiction and fact. The descriptive prose brings every scene vividly to life, whether in a laundry, a séance, a Victorian family Christmas, the horror of a baby farm, an attack by a canal or a tender moment between two people in love.
In one sense, Velvet’s naivety frustrates because you want her to understand the dangers around her earlier, but this aspect works because you have to read on to find out what will happen to her and how.
I was captivated by this novel from the onset. It is accessible to younger readers, but also interesting to adults. I would strongly recommend it as a good read, an introduction to life within the time, but it also shows how easily frauds can take advantage of people who are desperate.