The House of Velvet and Glass

Written by Katherine Howe
Review by Tamela McCann

When Sybil Allston lost her mother and sister when the Titanic sank, she assumed her mother’s habit of visiting a medium in order to get closure for her loss. With spinsterhood looming for her future and a wayward younger brother being kicked out of Harvard, Sybil’s desperation turns her toward Professor Benton Derby, her former love and a man of science. While Benton and his friend expose the medium as a fraud, Sybil discovers that, with the help of opiates, the scrying stone the medium gave her actually works. Confused by what she sees in the stone, Sybil’s use of it both intrigues and frustrates Benton, but can its secrets of the future help Sybil make sense of the past?

The House of Velvet and Glass takes a while to get going, with Sybil spending much time hand-wringing over her brother’s actions and her own inability to make peace with her losses. It is not until Benton becomes involved with her paranormal activity that the story gathers speed, and from then on it builds quickly to a surprising climax. I am frustrated with the final chapter, however, and would have liked to have had a clearer understanding of the reasons for ending the book in this manner because it has an abrupt feeling. Interspersed with Sybil’s story is the backstory of her father and his own descent into scrying the future, as well as the scenes of Sybil’s mother, Helen, and her younger sister Eulah as they live their last hours aboard the Titanic.

The House of Velvet and Glass is filled with interesting characters and awash in secrets, and the historical accuracy is spot on. I enjoyed this unique look at the fascination with spiritualism of the time period.